A Kenyan court on Tuesday charged the leader of a starvation cult and dozens of suspected accomplices with murder over the deaths of nearly 200 people in a forest near the Indian Ocean.
Self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, who has already been charged with terrorism, manslaughter as well as child torture and cruelty, is alleged to have incited hundreds of his acolytes to starve to death in order to “meet Jesus”.
On Tuesday, Mackenzie and 29 other suspects pleaded not guilty to 191 counts of murder, according to court documents seen by AFP.
A 31st suspect was deemed to lack the mental fitness to stand trial and ordered to return to the Malindi High Court in a month’s time.
The cult leader has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.
He was arrested in April last year after bodies were found in the Shakahola forest, with the grisly discoveries provoking horror across the world.
Autopsies revealed that the majority of the 429 victims had died of hunger.
But others, including children, appeared to have been strangled, beaten or suffocated.
The case, dubbed the “Shakahola forest massacre”, led the government to flag the need for tighter control of fringe denominations.
A largely Christian nation, Kenya has struggled to regulate unscrupulous churches and cults that dabble in criminality.