The number of people that have died in a Kenyan Good News International church in which Christians were told to fast to death so as to meet Jesus has climbed to 73, according to police, as of Monday, April 24, 2023.
The church cult leader identified as Pastor Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, who preached that death by starvation was the only way to deliver believers straight to Jesus, has also been arrested.
According to an AFP report, investigators have continued to unearth more corpses from mass graves in a forest near the coast, and some 212 people are still missing.
The death toll had earlier stood at 58, according to Police Chief Japhet Koome, who visited the site on Monday.
A major search was launched by the police after a tip-off from a local non-profit organization. Since then, a number of people have been rescued and dead bodies have been recovered from mass graves dug in shallow pits.
“We will have 73 bodies from the forest by this evening, and the exercise will continue,” said one of the police officers involved in the probe.
The police also told reporters that several bodies have been found squeezed into a single shallow grave, and some of the bodies were found in the forest without even being buried.
The forest, measuring over 300 hectares, has been cloned off and declared a crime scene as the police and search teams continue to look for more burial sites and any possible cult survivors.
President William Ruto has vowed to crack down on unacceptable weird religious movements, adding that religious leaders like Mackenzie are like terrorists who use religion to advance their heinous agenda.
“I have instructed the agencies responsible to take up the matter and get to the root cause of the activities of people who want to use religion to advance weird, unacceptable ideology,” said President Ruto.
In 2017, he was arrested on charges of radicalization after urging his congregation to desist from taking their children to school, saying education was not recognized in the Bible.
He was arrested again last month, according to local media, after two children from his church starved to death, but was later released.
The case has prompted the Kenyan authorities to consider the need to regulate the increasing number of religions and related activities, as these have continuously become habitats for criminal activities.