On Friday May 5 2023, Kenyan President William Ruto established a panel to investigate the murders of more than 100 people who are thought to have starved to death. A court also mandated the cult leader’s continued detention.
The commission of inquiry, announced on Friday by presidential spokesman Hussein Mohamed, will examine whether administrative or intelligence lapses contributed to the deaths.
Kenyan authorities have said the dead were members of the Good News International Church led by Paul Mackenzie, who they said predicted the world would end on April 15 and instructed his followers to kill themselves to be the first to go to heaven.
The death toll stands at 111 but could rise further, in one of the worst cult-related disasters in recent history.
Mohamed said Ruto had also appointed a task force to review regulations governing religious organisations.
Mackenzie has not commented publicly on the accusations against him nor has he been required to enter a plea to any criminal charge. His lawyer George Kariuki told the press on Tuesday that his client could face “possible terrorism charges”.
Mackenzie appeared in court in the port city of Mombasa on Friday, where prosecutors asked a judge to hold him for an additional 90 days as their investigation continued.
The judge said he would deliver a ruling next Wednesday on the prosecution’s request and ordered that Mackenzie remain in custody until then.
Mackenzie, who was wearing a black and pink jacket and holding his two-year-old daughter during the hearing, told journalists at the court that he and some of his supporters were being refused food in prison. Prosecutors denied this and his lawyer had told the press on Tuesday that his client was eating.
“He eats and drinks,” Kariuki said. “He is healthy. I have met him personally. There have been rumours that he has refused to eat, and that is not true.”
In March, Mackenzie was arrested earlier this year on suspicion of the murder of two children by starvation and suffocation but was then released on bail.
Relatives of his adherents say that after he was freed, he returned to the forest where they lived and brought forward his predicted world’s end date – which had previously fallen in August – to April 15.
This has led to criticism by some Kenyan lawmakers that security services missed opportunities to prevent mass deaths.