Friday, July 19, 2024

Paul McKenzie: Kenya's famine cult leader undergoes mental health checks

Date:

  • Written by Dorcas Wanjira and Widayale Chibiloshi
  • BBC News, Nairobi and London

Image source, Getty Images

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Self-proclaimed pastor Paul McKenzie has remained in detention since April

A religious cult leader arrested in Kenya who killed more than 400 people should undergo mental health examinations before being charged, a judge said.

Paul McKenzie was arrested in April last year after hundreds of bodies were found in mass graves.

Most showed signs of starvation, but some – including children – may have been assaulted.

McKenzie, a self-proclaimed pastor accused of leading a doomsday cult, denied responsibility for the deaths.

Prosecutors said they would charge him and 94 others with murder, manslaughter, terrorism and torture.

But on Wednesday, they asked a court in the coastal city of Malindi for more time to determine whether McKenzie and 30 other suspects were mentally fit to stand trial.

Judge Mugure Thandi granted the request and gave the prosecution 14 days to make assessments.

The suspects were handcuffed in pairs during Wednesday's hearing, except for McKenzie, who was alone.

The hearing is scheduled to resume on February 6.

In a case that stunned not only Kenyans but people around the world, the bodies of 429 people, including children, were exhumed from grave sites in Shakahola, a remote forest about two hours' drive west of Malindi in April 2023.

Some Kenyans wonder why the case is moving so slowly after the discovery of so many bodies.

McKenzie allegedly encouraged members of his Good News International church to move there and prepare for the apocalypse.

One witness told the BBC that people were instructed in January last year to start fasting so they could “get to heaven”.

But McKenzie said he can't be blamed for the deaths because he closed his church in 2019.

Last November, he was sentenced to 12 months in prison on charges of producing and distributing films without a license.

His lawyer said he would appeal the ruling.

He and his co-accused also face terrorism charges in a case being heard in the neighboring coastal province of Mombasa.

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Rainerio Manuel
Rainerio Manuel

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