Kenyan court threatens to release pastor accused of the “Shakahola massacre”

Preacher Paul Mackenzie, leader of the religious commune based in Malindi’s Shakahola forest, appears at Malindi Law Courts, Malindi town, Kenyan Coast Tuesday, May 2, 2023. Mackenzie was arrested for allegedly directing his followers to fast to death in order to meet Jesus. (AP Photo)

On Tuesday, a Kenyan court gave, on January 9, the authorities 14 days to bring charges against Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, failing which the self-proclaimed pastor, who has been held since April 2023, in connection with the deaths of 429 followers of his evangelical sect, will be released.
Paul Nthenge Mackenzie’s detention has been extended on several occasions to allow the search for victims in the forest of Shakahola (south-east), where his “International Church of Good News” met and to whom he preached fasting to death to “meet Jesus” before the end of the world in August 2023. Dubbed the “Shakahola massacre,” the scandal caused shock and incomprehension in Kenya, a predominantly Christian country with 4,000 official “churches.”
Ruling on a September application by prosecutors to keep him in custody for 180 days, a court in the coastal city of Mombasa noted on Tuesday that Pastor Mackenzie and 29 co-defendants had already spent 117 days, “sufficient time for the ongoing investigations to be completed.”.
Recalling that “this is the longest pre-trial detention in the country’s history” since the promulgation of its constitution in 2010, he granted a further 14 days. “If no decision to charge the defendants has been made by the expiry of this period, the court will consider releasing them on conditions to be determined by the court,” Judge Yusuf Abdallah Shikanda wrote in his ruling.
Prosecutors had announced in May that they would bring “terrorism” charges against the man allegedly responsible for the “Shakahola massacre.” A cab driver before proclaiming himself a pastor, Paul Nthenge Mackenzie has been in detention since April 14, the day after the first victims were discovered in the Shakahola forest. Since then, 429 bodies have been found in this bush area on the Kenyan coast.
Autopsies revealed that the majority of the victims had died of starvation, probably as a result of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie’s preaching. Some, including children, were strangled, beaten, or suffocated.