Kenya has banned five churches, including one led by a suspected cult leader accused of encouraging more than 400 followers to starve themselves to death, according to a government document released Friday.
The license of self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie’s Good News International Ministries was canceled effective May 19, the Registrar of Societies stated in a gazette notice, AFP reported.
Mackenzie allegedly incited his followers to starve to death to “meet Jesus,” a case that has deeply shocked Kenyans. While starvation is believed to be the main cause of death, some victims, including children, were strangled, beaten or suffocated, official autopsies revealed.
Authorities have also banned the New Life Prayer Centre and Church headed by televangelist Ezekiel Odero, the newswire reported, explaining he has been linked to Mackenzie and is under investigation for charges such as murder, aiding suicide, radicalization and money laundering.
Odero’s arrest in April followed the discovery of human remains in a forest near Malindi, believed to belong to Mackenzie’s followers.
Prosecutors have linked the two preachers, but Odero was released on bail in May.
Mackenzie’s detention was extended for 47 more days last week pending further investigation.
The grim discoveries, now referred to as the “Shakahola forest massacre,” have prompted the government to emphasize the need for tighter control of fringe denominations.
Kenya, a largely Christian nation, has more than 4,000 registered churches. It has struggled to regulate some that engage in criminal activities, often preaching the prosperity gospel. Efforts to tighten control have been opposed, seen as undermining the division of church and state.
In June, Joseph Buyuka, accused alongside Mackenzie of orchestrating the deaths of 337 followers, died in police custody following a hunger strike. Two other suspects had fallen ill, possibly due to their hunger strike.
Authorities have exhumed over 300 bodies from the forest.
Mackenzie, accused of ordering his followers to starve, including their children, handed himself to the police in April. Initially released on bail, he was re-arrested following the discovery of more bodies.
His followers had established a community in Kilifi County on Kenya’s coast, where local law enforcement intervened after receiving a tip-off about mass starvation.
The law enforcement had received the tip-off that “ignorant citizens were starving to death under the pretext of meeting Jesus after being brainwashed” by Mackenzie. The controversial televangelist had been under investigation for propagating a doctrine that encourages followers to abstain from food to reach Heaven faster.
BBC earlier quoted Titus Katana, an escapee, as saying that those who tried to leave the cult were branded as traitors and violently attacked. He also suggested there was an order in which people were supposed to die, with children being the first to go.
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