Kenya declares cult an ‘organised criminal group’ after starvation deaths

Self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, left, walks surrounded by Kenya police officers and other defendants as he appears at the Shanzu Law Courts in Mombasa on January 18, 2024 [AFP]

The authorities’ declaration comes as cult leader Mackenzie faces charges of murder, child torture and “terrorism”.

Kenyan authorities on Wednesday proscribed the church of a religious leader who ordered his followers to starve themselves and their children to death so that they could go to heaven, as an organised criminal group.

Paul Mackenzie, head of the Good News International Church, is currently facing charges of murder, child torture, and “terrorism” after last April’s discovery of hundreds of bodies of his followers who had starved to death on his instructions.

In an official gazette document published on Wednesday, the Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki declared the church an “organised criminal group”, paving the way for further investigation and possible prosecution of members deemed to have aided Mackenzie.

More than 400 bodies were uncovered over months of exhumations across tens of thousands of acres of the Shakahola forest near Kenya’s coast, making this one of the world’s worst cult-related tragedies in recent history.

Prosecutors have said they will charge 95 people in total, on counts of murder, manslaughter, terrorism, and torture. They have attributed delays in bringing charges to the delicate task of locating and exhuming so many human remains and performing autopsies. Some of Mackenzie’s other followers were rescued, emaciated, from the forest.

People with knowledge of the cult’s activities told the Reuters news agency last year that Mackenzie planned the mass starvation in three phases: first children, then women and young men, and finally the remaining men.

A former taxi driver in the coastal city of Mombasa, he forbade cult members from sending their children to school and from going to hospital when they were ill, branding such institutions as satanic, some of his followers said.

In December, Mackenzie received a 12-month sentence for producing and distributing films that were not approved by the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB).



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