Kenya has banned five churches, including one led by a suspected cult leader accused of encouraging more than 400 followers to starve themselves to death, according to a government document released Friday.
The license of self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie’s Good News International Ministries was canceled effective May 19, the Registrar of Societies stated in a gazette notice, AFP reported.
Mackenzie allegedly incited his followers to starve to death to “meet Jesus,” a case that has deeply shocked Kenyans. While starvation is believed to be the main cause of death, some victims, including children, were strangled, beaten or suffocated, official autopsies revealed.
Authorities have also banned the New Life Prayer Centre and Church headed by televangelist Ezekiel Odero, the newswire reported, explaining he has been linked to Mackenzie and is under investigation for charges such as murder, aiding suicide, radicalization and money laundering.
Odero’s arrest in April followed the discovery of human remains in a forest near Malindi, believed to belong to Mackenzie’s followers.
Prosecutors have linked the two preachers, but Odero was released on bail in May.
Mackenzie’s detention was extended for 47 more days last week pending further investigation.
The grim discoveries, now referred to as the “Shakahola forest massacre,” have prompted the government to emphasize the need for tighter control of fringe denominations.
Kenya, a largely Christian nation, has more than 4,000 registered churches. It has struggled to regulate some that engage in criminal activities, often preaching the prosperity gospel. Efforts to tighten control have been opposed, seen as undermining the division of church and state.
Joseph Buyuka and Mackenzie, accused of orchestrating the deaths of 337 followers, died in police custody following a hunger strike.
Authorities exhumed over 300 bodies from the forest. Mackenzie, accused of ordering followers to starve, handed himself to the police in April. Local law enforcement intervened after receiving a tip-off about mass starvation.
Escapees claim that those trying to leave the cult were branded as traitors and violently attacked.