A Kenyan cult leader is on trial after the deaths of more than 100 of his followers

NAIROBI (Reuters) – A Kenyan cult leader accused of ordering his followers to starve themselves appeared in court on Tuesday as investigators searched for more bodies in a forest in eastern Kenya where 101 bodies have already been found.

Kenyan authorities say the dead were members of the Good News International Church, led by Paul Mackenzie, 50, who predicted the world would end on April 15 and ordered his followers to kill themselves to be the first to enter heaven.

The death toll was 109 – 101 bodies, mostly children, found in mass graves and eight people found alive and later dead – but it could rise further. The Interior Ministry said more than 400 people were missing.

McKenzie, who is in police custody, has not commented publicly on the charges against him and has not been required to file an objection to any criminal charge. Two lawyers representing him declined to comment.

An investigator involved in the case, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters that McKenzie denied ordering his followers to fast.

McKenzie faces a number of charges related to previous alleged crimes, but prosecutors have yet to issue an indictment in connection with the mass graves.

Citizen TV showed McKenzie appearing in court in the coastal town of Malindi, an hour and a half drive from Chakahola Forest, where mass graves were found.

He was wearing a pink T-shirt and jacket, standing shoulder to shoulder with eight other sect members.

Kenyan media reported that the Malindi court had transferred the case to the larger port city of Mombasa.

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The government’s chief coroner said on Monday that 10 autopsies had so far been carried out on the bodies of one adult and nine children. He said that most of the signs of hunger appeared in two children, while two children showed signs of suffocation.

(Covering) Written by George Obolutsa, Humphrey Mallalo, and Duncan Meriri, Editing by Angus MacSwan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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