Kenya cult death toll rises to 95 as government sets curfew

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Kenya Interior minister Kithure Kindiki, centre, in white shirt, inspects graves where victims of a Christian Cult are buried at a forest in Shakahola, outskirts of tourist town of Malindi, Coastal Kenya Tuesday, April 25, 2023. Kenya's president William Ruto said Monday that the starvation deaths of dozens of followers of pastor Paul Makenzi, who was arrested on suspicion of telling his followers to fast to death in order to meet Jesus, is akin to terrorism (AP Photo)

NAIROBI – The latest death toll in Kenya’s cult investigation has risen to 95 as the government announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the ranch owned by a pastor who is accused of ordering his followers to fast to death.

Journalists and human rights activists on Wednesday were barred from accessing the 800-acre (320-hectare) ranch, which has been declared a “disturbed area and an operation zone.”

Pastor Paul Makenzi, who was arrested for allegedly directing his followers to fast to death in order to meet Jesus, remains in police custody until at least May 2. He heads the Good News International Church.

Police say they took 22 people into custody during Wednesday’s search and rescue operation. Authorities have rescued 34 people from the property, which is near the town of Malindi, since police raided the ranch earlier this month.

The Kenya Red Cross Society said that 314 is the latest missing persons figure. Movement will now be restricted on the ranch for 30 days.

“Curfew orders have also been declared and Gazetted within the said area between 1800 hours in the evening up to and until 0600 hours in the morning for 30 days,” Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said in a statement.

Human rights activists have questioned the move to bar them from accessing the ranch where the police have been conducting search and rescue operations alongside exhumations.

“We are the ones who highlighted this case. Why are we being left out now?” activist Victor Kaudo said.

It is unclear why the bodies exhumed on Wednesday were the lowest number since the operation started on Friday.

The director of public prosecutions, Noordin Haji, on Wednesday directed investigating officers to identify the assets of the suspects for purposes of preservation, confiscation and forfeiture in accordance with the law.