A Kenyan court warned prosecutors Tuesday it will release under its own terms a pastor and others accused of being behind the deaths of 429 people believed to be his cult followers if they aren’t charged within two weeks.
For months since the arrests last April, prosecutors have asked the court for permission to keep holding Paul Mackenzie and 28 others while they look into the case that shocked Kenyans with the discovery of mass graves and allegations of starvation and strangulation.
But Shanzu Senior Principal Magistrate Yusuf Shikanda noted that the suspects had been detained for 117 days since the last application for an extension and it was enough time to have completed investigations.
The defense has argued that the constitutional rights for bail for Mackenzie and the others were being violated since they haven’t been charged.
The magistrate said the suspects had been detained without trial for longer than anyone in Kenya since the adoption of the country’s 2010 constitution that outlawed detention without trial.
Mackenzie is serving a separate one-year prison sentence after being found guilty of operating a film studio and producing films without a valid license.
The cult case emerged when police rescued 15 emaciated parishioners from Mackenzie’s church in Kilifi County in Kenya’s southeast. Four died after the group was taken to a hospital.
Survivors told investigators the pastor had instructed them to fast to death before the world ends so they could meet Jesus.
A search of the remote, forested area has found 429 bodies and dozens of mass graves, authorities have said. Autopsies on some bodies showed starvation, strangulation or suffocation.