Kenya, a country where most people are Christians, has had trouble controlling some churches and groups that break the law.
A court in Kenya has accused the leader of a cult and many others of killing about 200 children in a forest near the Indian Ocean.
The leader, Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, who calls himself a pastor, has already been accused of terrorism, causing deaths, and hurting children. He’s said to have told many followers to starve themselves to “meet Jesus.”
Mackenzie and 29 others said they are not guilty of 191 counts of murder, including killing three babies.
One person was said to be too sick to understand the trial and will come back later.
The leader says he didn’t do anything wrong.
He was arrested last April after bodies were found in the forest. The discoveries shocked people all over the world.
Doctors found out that most of the 429 people who died were starved.
But some, including children, seemed to have been choked, beaten, or suffocated.
The case, known as the “Shakahola forest massacre,” made the government think about controlling small religious groups better.
Mackenzie’s group, called Good News International Ministries, was described as an “organized criminal group” in court documents. They are said to have done things that led to the death of many followers.
According to court papers, Mackenzie and others didn’t give food to children as young as six years old and hit others with thorny sticks.
Some children were also taken away from school and not allowed to learn, the court papers said.
People wonder how Mackenzie avoided being caught by the police even though he was known for doing extreme things and had been to court before.
A Senate group said last October that Mackenzie had been accused in 2017 of preaching things that could make people extreme.
In 2017, he was found not guilty of teaching in an illegal school after saying the normal school system wasn’t right according to the Bible.
In 2019, he was blamed for the deaths of two children who were said to be starved, choked, and then buried in the forest. He was let out of jail until his trial.
There are more than 4,000 churches in Kenya, a country in East Africa with about 53 million people, according to the government.
In the past, trying to control religious groups has met strong opposition because people thought it went against the law that says religion and government should be separate.