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Shakahola massacre: Paul Mackenzie's radicalisation case begins in Shanzu

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Mackenzie, along with 94 others, faces 13 counts of terrorism-related offences. The court has set marathon hearing dates from July 8-11 and July 22-25, 2024, to accommodate over 60 witnesses expected to testify.

A Shanzu court has commenced hearing the highly anticipated radicalisation case of suspected cult leader Paul Mackenzie and others amid tight security and stringent measures to protect witnesses.

The trial, which has captured widespread attention, involves charges of terrorism and radicalisation linked to the Shakahola massacre of at least 429 people, whom Mackenzie is said to have convinced to starve themselves to death to meet Jesus, through his church - Good News International Ministries.

Mackenzie, along with 94 others, faces 13 counts of terrorism-related offences. The court has set marathon hearing dates from July 8-11 and July 22-25, 2024, to accommodate over 60 witnesses expected to testify.

Shanzu Principal Magistrate Leah Juma, who is presiding over the case, stressed the importance of adhering to the timelines to ensure the swift delivery of justice.

"All parties must be prepared to proceed. Any applications must be filed with sufficient notice," she emphasised.

In Monday's session, the first protected witness gave testimony under heavy security and the media and public were barred from the courtroom to ensure safety and confidentiality.

The prosecution alleges that between 2020 and 2023, Mackenzie and his followers engaged in organised criminal activities in Shakahola Forest, Kilifi County. These activities allegedly endangered lives and resulted in the deaths of more than 429 of his followers through radical practices such as fasting to death.

Mackenzie and his co-accused are also charged with promoting an extreme belief system to facilitate ideologically-based violence and transporting followers between Shakahola Forest and Malindi Township, further endangering their lives. Additionally, he and two others are accused of possessing CDs, DVDs, books, and pamphlets intended to incite terrorism.

The magistrate directed the probation department to expedite the preparation of pre-bail reports for the remaining 35 of the 95 accused individuals. The probation team was granted an additional 21 days to complete these reports, which are crucial in determining whether Mackenzie and his co-accused should be granted bail.

The prosecution has opposed the suspects' release, citing the severity of the charges and the risk of further radicalization.

The court will also set a ruling date for the prosecution's application to oppose bail for Mackenzie and his co-accused.

In a related development, Juma directed Shimo la Tewa Prison authorities to ensure that three accused persons, who have reportedly begun a hunger strike, receive medical attention. The court has mandated that a medical report on their condition be presented at the next mention date.

The case continues to unfold, with more witnesses set to testify in the coming weeks.

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