The leader of a cult in Kenya has been charged with the murder of 191 people though authorities say he may be responsible for as many as 400 deaths. But Paul Mackenzie who ran the Good News International Church in Malindi, on the south-east coast, has pleaded not guilty in court.
He and 29 others have denied starving people to death or abusing children, or even suffocating, strangling and beating people to death. None of his sermons captured on camera show him directly telling people to fast.
But survivors of his cult say he had urged followers to fast in order to see Jesus. In the camp he ran in 2022, deep in the Shakahola forest about 70 km from Malindi town, his followers were gradually restricted from leaving it, then food supplies began to diminish. Half a cup of tea and a slice of bread was all that was given in the morning, and later even that stopped.
People were not allowed to leave the camp even to pick wild berries to satisfy their hunger. Guards kept a constant watch and violence was meted out to anybody caught breaking the rules.
But word began to filter out as some people managed to escape and told the police. Still others landed up at the forest camp in search of missing family members. It turned out many had died of starvation, others had been beaten so badly by guards they did not survive. No medical help was allowed.
The trial of Mackenzie and his co-accused has been slow to take off with the authorities still gathering evidence.