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Kenya: Alleged starvation cult leader goes on trial

July 8, 2024

A self-proclaimed pastor and almost 100 accomplices have gone on trial in Kenya on terrorism charges over the notorious "Shakahola forest massacre." The case follows the exhumation of more than 400 corpses.

Forensic experts and homicide detectives carry the bodies of suspected members of a Christian cult who starved themselves to death.
The members of the Christian cult were told they would go to heaven if they starved themselves to deathImage: Stringer/REUTERS

The leader of an evangelical doomsday cult in Kenya went on trial in Mombasa on Monday, charged with "terrorism" after allegedly inciting over 400 of his followers to starve themselves to death in order to "meet Jesus."

What do we know about the legal proceedings? 

Self-proclaimed preacher Paul Nthenge Mackenzie appeared in court in the port city on the Indian Ocean along with 94 co-defendants. 

The accused are also facing charges of murder, manslaughter, kidnapping and child torture and cruelty in separate cases.

They all pleaded not guilty at an initial hearing in January.

The remains of more than 440 people were discovered and exhumed in an isolated region just inland from the coastal town of Malindi.

Autopsies carried out on 100 victims determined that the majority had died of starvation, but that some, including children, had been strangled, beaten or suffocated.

Court documents reported that certain bodies had had their organs removed in the grim case which has been dubbed the "Shakahola forest massacre."

Kenyan starvation cult survivor recounts her plight

Interior minister: 'Shakahola massacre' worst-ever breach of security in Kenya

Mackenzie, a former taxi driver, founded what he called the Good News International Church in 2003.

He turned himself in on April 14, 2023, after police, acting on a tip-off, first entered Shakahola forest and discovered mass graves. 

"The Shakahola massacre is the worst breach of security in the history of our country," said Kenyan Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki during a Senate committee hearing at which he vowed to "relentlessly push for legal reforms to tame rogue preachers."

Kindiki had initially accused Kenyan police of laxity in investigating initial reports of starvation.

mf/wd (AFP, EFE)