Kenya police begin exhuming remains from suspected Christian cult graves

By Reuters

Kenyan police have started exhuming remains from more than a dozen suspected graves in the east of the country thought to contain followers of a Christian cult who believed they would go to heaven if they starved themselves to death.

On Thursday, homicide detectives marked out patches of earth with sticks and yellow tape in Shakahola forest in Kilifi county, near the location where police rescued 15 members of the Good News International Church last week, according to footage broadcast by Citizen TV.

Police began exhuming bodies on Friday, said Charles Kamau, a detective in the nearby town of Malindi, without giving further details.

The leader of the church, Paul Mackenzie, was arrested following a tip-off that also suggested the existence of shallow graves belonging to at least 31 of Mackenzie’s followers.

Mackenzie’s lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Police said the 15 rescued worshipers had been told to starve themselves to death so they could meet their creator.

Four of them died before they reached hospital.

Titus Katana, a former member of the church, helped police identify the graves.

“We have shown the graves to the police, and in addition, we have saved the life of a woman who only had a few hours left, otherwise she’d also be dead,” Katana told Citizen TV.

Matthew Shipeta from Haki Africa, a human rights group, said he had seen at least 15 shallow graves in the forest.

Helen Mikali, the manager of a children’s home who was also helping investigators, said she had visited several nearby villages where parents and children had disappeared.

“Personally I have visited about 18 children’s graves,” Mikali told Citizen TV. She did not say how she knew the graves contained the remains of children.

Last month police arrested and later released Mackenzie, who they identified as Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, for encouraging the parents of two boys to starve and suffocate their children to death.

During a court appearance in that case, Nthenge said he was unaware of the events that led to the deaths of the two boys, adding he was the target of hostile propaganda from some of his former colleagues, The Standard newspaper reported.

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