Ethiopia: Followers of sect advocating extreme fasting repatriated

Some 80 followers of a cult in eastern Uganda who travelled to Ethiopia in February at the call of a pastor to find salvation by fasting to death have been repatriated, the Ugandan authorities said on Tuesday.

The Church of Christ Disciples had travelled to Ethiopia after their pastor, Simon Opolot, said they would find Jesus after 40 days of fasting.

“Working with the Ethiopian government, we were able to organize their repatriation, and they are all safe and sound in Uganda,” Simon Mundeyi, spokesman for the Ugandan Ministry of Internal Affairs, told AFP.

He added that the pastor had not yet been arrested. “He has been put on the wanted list and will be apprehended,” he said.

Mr Mundeyi also said that the followers, from the Soroti region, about 300 kilometers north-east of the capital Kampala, had sold all their possessions on the grounds that the end of the world was near.

“But the Ethiopian authorities learned of their arrival in the country, recovered them and confined them until their repatriation documents were ready”, added Simon Mundeyi.

In 2000, more than 700 followers of the “Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God” sect of Protestant origin died in Uganda, an African country in the Great Lakes region, either in mass suicide ceremonies or killed by the sect’s leaders.

Some 300 followers burned to death in their church, which was barricaded from the outside, in Kanungu, in the south-west of the country, while the police exhumed the bodies of 400 people, mainly women and children, piled up in mass graves.

In neighboring Kenya, more than 250 people have been found dead so far since April in the Shakahola forest, near the coast, where followers of an evangelical sect advocating extreme fasting to “meet Jesus” were meeting.

The leader of the cult, Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a former taxi driver who proclaimed himself a pastor, was arrested and is being prosecuted for “terrorism”.