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Kenya cult death toll rises to 95 as government sets curfew

Nairobi, Kenya

The latest death toll in Kenya’s cult investigation has risen to 95 as the government announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the ranch owned by a pastor who is accused of ordering his followers to fast to death.

Steven Mwiti holds a photograph of his late wife Joan Bahati, a follower of a Christian cult named Good News International Church, outside the Malindi sub district hospital mortuary in Malindi, Kilifi county, Kenya, on 26th April, 2023.

Steven Mwiti holds a photograph of his late wife Joan Bahati, a follower of a Christian cult named “Good News International Church,” outside the Malindi sub district hospital mortuary in Malindi, Kilifi county, Kenya, on 26th April, 2023. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi


Stephen Mwiti was too distraught to go identify the bodies of his wife and six children among the corpses of dozens of cult members recovered from Shakahola forest and brought to a mortuary in Kenya’s coastal town of Malindi on Wednesday. 

“My children are gone. The children who have been rescued, I went and had a look and I did not see my children,” Mwiti said as he waved a photo of his wife and four of the children. 

He has been carrying the fading, dog-eared photo in a plastic bag for the last six months or so as he searched for his young ones.

Mwiti said his wife took the children in 2021 to live among members of the Good News International Church.

“That wife, even if they recover her body, I will not collect it,” Mwiti said. “These problems I am experiencing, she is the one who brought them to me.”

Hospital workers and Mwiti told Reuters that Pastor Paul Mackenzie had told his followers the world would end soon and instructed them to starve themselves to be the first to reach heaven. Authorities have recovered 81 bodies from shallow graves, while eight cult members died after being found alive. 

Reuters has not been able to reach any lawyer or representative who could speak on Mackenzie’s behalf regarding the accusations against him.

Mwiti said he once attempted to rescue his wife and children from the forest, where he saw them living with Mackenzie and about 50 other women and their children.

“We could see people in the distance but there was no way to get to them. We went round and round until we spotted a car somewhere in the forest,” Mwiti said. “We tried calling out and nobody was responding to our calls. We cleared the way in. It’s then that we saw Makenzi.”

He said Mackenzie told them they could not pick up the children since they had all gone deeper into the forest.

– DUNCAN MWIRI, Malindi, Kenya/Reuters

Journalists and human rights activists on Wednesday were barred from accessing the 320-hectare ranch, which has been declared a “disturbed area and an operation zone.”

Pastor Paul Mackenzie, who was arrested for allegedly directing his followers to fast to death in order to meet Jesus, remains in police custody until at least 2nd May. He heads the Good News International Church.

Police say they took 22 people into custody during Wednesday’s search and rescue operation. Authorities have rescued 34 people from the property, which is near the town of Malindi, since police raided the ranch earlier this month.

The Kenya Red Cross Society said that 314 is the latest missing persons figure. Movement will now be restricted on the ranch for 30 days.

“Curfew orders have also been declared and Gazetted within the said area between 1800 hours in the evening up to and until 0600 hours in the morning for 30 days,” Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said in a statement.

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Human rights activists have questioned the move to bar them from accessing the ranch where the police have been conducting search and rescue operations alongside exhumations.

“We are the ones who highlighted this case. Why are we being left out now?” activist Victor Kaudo said.

It is unclear why the bodies exhumed on Wednesday were the lowest number since the operation started on Friday.

The director of public prosecutions, Noordin Haji, on Wednesday directed investigating officers to identify the assets of the suspects for purposes of preservation, confiscation and forfeiture in accordance with the law.



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