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KNCHR faults govt for prosecuting Shakahola survivors

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) has faulted the government for the prosecution of victims of the Shakahola cult that is linked to Paul Nthenge.

In a statement on Thursday, KNCHR said charging survivors of the Shakahola massacre with attempted suicide would re-traumatize them at a time they needed empathy, intense psycho-social assistance, rehabilitation and community support.

“Sending them to our already congested prisons shall further aggravate their plight, including adverse mental health consequences,” the Commission said.

The Commission further noted that the prosecution of survivors did not stop the practices of the cult but only worsens the stigma against persons with mental health issues.

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“The commission reminds the government of its own policy commitments to decriminalize attempted suicide through the Ministry of Health’s Action Plan 2021-2025 and National Suicide Prevention Strategy 2021-2026 and the repeal of Section 226 of the Penal Code which decriminalizes attempted suicide remains a key intervention towards addressing mental health concerns and preventing suicide in the country,” the Commission said.

Further, the commission told the government that persons affected by mental illnesses and suicidal behaviour have the right to appropriate, affordable, accessible physical and mental health care, counseling, rehabilitation and after- care support.

The commission called on the government to, therefore, desist from re-victimizing and re-traumatizing victims of the Shakahola tragedy by charging them with criminal offences and other charges stemming from the cult, for the withdrawal of any charges of attempted suicide against the survivors and recommended both state and non-state actors provide the victims with the assistance they require.

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Currently, the State is prosecuting more than 30 people involved in the deaths. While in police custody, some of Pastor Mackenzie’s followers embarked on a hunger strike to also protest against Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki’s remarks that Mackenzie will be imprisoned for life, fearing that they too will be subjected to the same fate despite ongoing court processes.

The Shakahola massacre is a result of cultish practices led by Good News International Church’s Pastor Mackenzie in Kilifi County. He urged his followers to starve themselves to death if they wanted to see Jesus.

By June 13, 2023, over 300 bodies had been unearthed from the Shakahola forest where mass graves were discovered. The government pathologist found that some of the deceased had died due to blunt force trauma, strangulation, beating and suffocation.

As the government continues working in the forest, some victims continue to be found alive but on the verge of death as some are still following Mackenzie’s teachings. Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha told the media that the number of people reported missing stands at 613 while 95 people have been rescued so far.

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