A Kenyan man in police custody passed away ten days after embarking on a hunger strike following allegations that he played a role in the mass deaths of members of a Christian starvation cult, a prosecutor on Wednesday announced, per Reuters.
The deceased, Joseph Buyuka, as well as the alleged cult leader and pastor of Good News International Church, Paul Mackenzie, were part of 28 other people who were arrested and detained after the bodies of hundreds of followers were exhumed from the church grounds in Shakahola forest. Over 300 bodies have so far been found.
“The police believe that these individuals… played significant roles in the offences leading to the deaths and illegal disposal of bodies in Shakahola (forest),” court papers stated in reference to Bukuka and other suspects arrested in connection with the mass deaths.
Senior prosecution counsel, Jami Yamina, told a court in the Kenyan city of Mombasa that Buyuka’s death a few days ago was a result of “complications from hunger strike and starvation, but we will await postmortem report.” She added, “Two other suspects … have also been taken ill. Police believe it is related to their hunger strike.”
Paul Mackenzie, a self-styled pastor, is accused of making his followers, including children, starve to death so they could go to heaven. Autopsies carried out on the deceased followers revealed that their main cause of death was starvation, while others were strangled, beaten, or suffocated.
Mackenzie is currently being held without bail after he surrendered to authorities in April. The suspects charged in connection with the mass deaths are, however, yet to enter their pleas.
In May, the East African nation’s interior minister highlighted worries over some of the rescued members’ refusal to eat. He also said one of the followers had passed away, Reuters reported.
Buyuka’s death also comes after Kenyan authorities brought attempted suicide charges against 65 rescued members of the Christian cult after they rejected food at a rescue center that was holding them.
British colonizers made attempted suicide a criminal offense before Kenya’s independence in 1963, per the BBC. Though England repealed the law over 60 years ago, its former East African colony still enforces it. However, campaigners in Kenya have been advocating for the annulment of the law in their country.