A court in Kenya has accused a cult leader and many suspected collaborators of causing the death of over 200 individuals.
According to court documents seen by AFP, Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, who claims to be a pastor, and 94 others, including his wife, pleaded not guilty to 238 charges of manslaughter.
Mackenzie, who was recently accused of terrorism, is accused of encouraging his followers to fast until death as a means to “meet Jesus.” This shocking case has sparked outrage globally.
In April, he was taken into custody when bodies were found in the Shakahola forest close to the Indian Ocean. Examinations showed that most of the 429 individuals had perished from starvation. Some, including young people, showed signs of being strangled, beaten, or suffocated.
According to court documents, the 238 individuals discussed during Tuesday’s hearing were murdered at Shakahola between January 2021 and September 2023.
During a previous court appearance, Mackenzie denied charges of terrorism in the city of Mombasa. He is now scheduled to undergo a psychiatric evaluation in order to determine his ability to stand trial for murder at a different court in the coastal town of Malindi.
Kenya, a predominantly Christian country, has faced difficulties in controlling dishonest churches and cults that engage in criminal activities.
The gruesome incident, known as the “Shakahola forest massacre”, prompted the government to recognize the importance of regulating fringe religious groups.
There has been speculation surrounding how Mackenzie was able to avoid being caught by law enforcement, even though they had a past of extreme beliefs and prior run-ins with the law.
In October, a Senate investigation found that the man, who is a father of seven, was charged in 2017 for preaching extreme beliefs. He was cleared of accusations of radicalization and teaching without proper authorization after refusing to follow the mainstream education system, which he believed was not in accordance with his religious beliefs.
In 2019, he faced allegations of involvement in the deaths of two children who were allegedly deprived of food, suffocated, and buried in a shallow grave in Shakahola. He was granted bail while awaiting trial, which is still in progress.
According to government records, the east African nation with a population of 53 million has over 4,000 registered churches.