Kenya cult leader charged with manslaughterTue, 23 Jan 2024 15:00:42 GMT

A Kenyan court on Tuesday charged a cult leader and dozens of suspected accomplices with manslaughter over the deaths of more than 200 people. Self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie and 94 other suspects, including his wife, pleaded not guilty to 238 counts of manslaughter, according to documents from the Mombasa court seen by AFP.Mackenzie, who was also charged with terrorism last week, is alleged to have incited his acolytes to starve to death in order to “meet Jesus” in a case that provoked horror across the world. He was arrested last April after bodies were discovered in the Shakahola forest near the Indian Ocean.Autopsies revealed that the majority of the 429 victims had died of hunger.But others, including children, appeared to have been strangled, beaten or suffocated.The 238 victims mentioned in Tuesday’s hearing were killed “on an unknown date between January 2021 and September 2023 at Shakahola”, court documents said.Mackenzie pleaded not guilty to terrorism at another hearing last week in the port city of Mombasa.He is also due to undergo a mental health assessment to establish if he is fit to stand trial for murder at another court in the coastal town of Malindi.A largely Christian nation, Kenya has struggled to regulate unscrupulous churches and cults that dabble in criminality.The grisly case, dubbed the “Shakahola forest massacre”, led the government to flag the need for tighter control of fringe denominations.Questions have been raised about how Mackenzie managed to evade law enforcement despite a history of extremism and previous legal cases.A Senate commission of inquiry reported in October that the father of seven had faced charges in 2017 for extreme preaching.He was acquitted of charges of radicalisation in 2017 for illegally providing school teaching after rejecting the formal educational system that he claimed was not in line with the Bible. In 2019, he was also accused of links to the death of two children believed to have been starved, suffocated and then buried in a shallow grave in Shakahola. He was released on bail pending that trial, which is ongoing.There are more than 4,000 churches registered in the East African country of 53 million people, according to government figures.