Kenyan cult leader sentenced to 18 months for film violations but still not charged over mass graves

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The leader of a doomsday cult in Kenya was sentenced Friday to 18 months in prison for the illegal distribution of films and operating a film studio without licenses.

The senior magistrate in the city of Malindi, Olga Onalo, handed down the sentence for Paul Mackenzie. The controversial preacher can appeal within 14 days.

Mackenzie was found guilty last month of exhibition of films through his Times Television network without approval of the Kenya Film Classification Board in charges dating back to 2019.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges saying he didn’t know he required a license to distribute films.

Mackenzie had been accused of using the TV channel and his sermons to radicalize children and parents against Western education and medicine. Prosecutors also alleged that some of his followers had refused to go to school or attend hospitals when sick. He was acquitted of those charges.

The preacher has been in police custody since April, when he was arrested in connection with the discovery of more than 400 bodies in mass graves on his church property. He has not been formally charged in the deaths.

Prosecutors allege Mackenzie ordered hundreds of his congregants to starve themselves to death in order to meet Jesus.

The state last month applied to continue holding Mackenzie and his co-accused in custody for six more months, as investigations continue. Fresh graves were discovered in November at his 800-acre (324-hectare) property, but authorities have not revealed when exhumation of the bodies will be done, with many of pastor Mackenzie’s followers still reported missing.