Kenyan cult leader to remain in police custody: court
Nairobi, Kenya — A Kenyan court on Thursday extended the detention of a cult leader accused of inciting and possibly forcing more than 400 of his followers to starve themselves to death.
Self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie has been in police custody since mid-April as investigators search for more bodies in a forest near the Indian Ocean coast.
Senior principal magistrate Yusuf Shikanda said at a court hearing in the port city of Mombasa that Mackenzie and 29 co-accused would be held for a further 47 days pending investigations.
“The application by the state for extension of custodial orders is allowed… for a further period not exceeding 47 days from 2/8/2023,” Shikanda said in a ruling seen by AFP.
The former taxi driver and founder of the Good News International Church is yet to enter a plea.
State prosecutors say that once the investigations are complete, the 30 defendants will be subjected to psychiatric assessments before being charged with terrorism and other offences.
To date, 425 bodies have been discovered in the Shakahola forest, a 325-hectare (800-acre) bushland that lies inland from the Indian Ocean town of Malindi.
A fourth round of exhumations were suspended on July 19 to allow the ill-equipped morgue in Malindi to perform autopsies on 87 bodies.
While starvation appears to be the main cause of death, some of the victims — including children — were strangled, beaten or suffocated, according to autopsies carried by the government.
Police say they have arrested a total of 37 people over what has been dubbed the “Shakahola Forest Massacre”.
Around 95 people have been rescued from the forest while 464 DNA samples have been collected from families looking for their lost relatives, according to police data.
Questions have been raised about how Mackenzie, a father of seven, managed to evade law enforcement despite a history of extremism and previous legal cases.
Mackenzie fell foul of the law in 2017 after he was accused of urging children not to attend school, claiming the Bible did not recognise education.
He was arrested again in March, after two children starved to death in the custody of their parents but was subsequently freed on bond.
The horrific saga has drawn President William Ruto to weigh in on the sensitive subject of Kenya’s homegrown religious movements — and failed efforts to regulate unscrupulous churches and cults that have dabbled in criminality.
There are more than 4,000 churches registered in the East African country of around 53 million people, according to government figures.
The government said in June it would convert the vast coastal forest into a national memorial site.