Kenyan doomsday cult leader goes on trial for terrorism

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Paul Mackenzie stands accused of ordering hundreds of his followers to starve themselves to death

Kenyan cult leader Paul Mackenzie went on trial on Monday on terrorism charges over the deaths of more than 430 of his followers in a forest area near his church. He is also charged with murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, child torture and cruelty in separate cases.

Mackenzie, a self-proclaimed pastor, appeared in court in Mombasa, alongside 94 co-defendants. The cult leader, his wife and 93 other suspects are being held at Shimo la Tewa Prison in the port city.

Journalists were asked to leave the courtroom shortly after proceedings began to allow a protected witness to testify.

In a January hearing, Mackenzie and his co-defendants pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism. Paul Mackenzie allegedly instructed his followers to starve themselves to death so that they could “meet Jesus Christ before the end of the world.” However, autopsies show that some died from strangulation or suffocation.

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Kenyan doomsday cult leader charged with mass murder

He was arrested last April after police rescued 15 emaciated church members and the first bodies were discovered in shallow graves located in the Shakahola forest area in the coastal county of Kilifi. Mackenzie is alleged to have forced his followers to destroy their identification documents and forbade them from interacting with anyone outside the cult community.

The number of deaths among individuals thought to be followers of the cult leader has reached 436, following the exhumation of seven additional bodies on June 3 during the fifth phase of an ongoing recovery operation.

In June, Kenyan chief government pathologist Dr. Johansen Oduor reported that “the loose soil aids in locating the graves” and said that exhumation efforts would continue. He stated that within the next month, bodies currently undergoing analysis at the Malindi hospital morgue would be processed and released to their families.

On February 6, a court charged another 29 of Mackenzie’s followers, although one was found to be mentally unfit to stand trial. All of the accused had undergone mental health evaluations in accordance with the orders of a judge in January. 

Mackenzie had been previously accused of delivering extremist sermons and was also accused in the deaths of two children in 2017 and 2019. In the first case, he was cleared of all charges. He was released on bail pending trial in relation to the second case. 

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