Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, the leader of a religious cult within Kenya, could potentially be released from detention if the state prosecutor does not charge him within two weeks. The Senior Magistrate Yusuf Abdallah Shikanda said that the state has two weeks to charge Mackenzie, or “the court will consider releasing the respondents from custody on terms that will be determined by the court”, adding that “it has been a long journey that must come to an end, at least for this phase”.
Mackenzie is accused of heading a cult as the self-proclaimed Pastor of the ‘Good News International Church’, in which he is accused of telling his followers that, should they starve themselves to death, they would be able to meet Christ in heaven. Police discovered mass graves on Mackenzie’s property in the Shakahola Forest, where they have now exhumed 429 people. The vast majority of those found died from starvation, however some of the bodies found, including those of children, had died from strangulation, beatings, and suffocation.
Mackenzie, his wife, and a number of other suspects were taken into custody after the initial discovery of graves by Kenyan authorities on April 13th, 2023. Many of the other suspects arrested, totaling 28 (excluding Mackenzie and his wife), were accused of enforcing through violent means the fast, and ensuring nobody escaped Mackenzie’s compound.
The investigation has been ongoing for a long time as the Office of Public Prosecutions processes victims DNA, which they say is a lengthy and delicate process due to how much a significant portion of the bodies have decomposed.
Mackenzie denies any wrongdoing.
While the Good News International Church is certainly an extreme case, the discovery of the cult thrust into the spotlight the significant problem that Kenya has of homegrown churches. This is not the first time homegrown religious-elements have dabbled in criminality as the state struggles to properly regulate them.