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KNCHR calls for prosecution of controversial cleric

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has called for the arrest and prosecution of Holy Ghost Coptic Church of Africa cleric Father John Pesa over illegal detention of mentally challenged patients at the church.

KNCHR chairperson Roseline Odede asked the Director of Public Prosecutions and the National Police Service to exercise their legal powers and institute criminal proceedings against the cleric and others involved in the gross violation of human rights within the church’s precincts.

“The commission condemns in the strongest terms possible the continued gross violations and abuse of the rights of those detained by the church under the guise of faith healing or other reasons,” she said.

This, she said, was a testimony of widespread human rights violations, indignity, social exclusion and stigma for people with mental illness in family and religious spaces.

In a statement to the media, Odede further called on the Attorney General who is mandated to regulate religious institutions to carry out an audit of the activities of the church located along Kisumu-Kakamega road and take appropriate action.

The audit, she said, should be extended to other religious institutions purporting to offer faith healing hence stopping patients from seeking conventional treatment.

Odede said it was unfortunate that the Coptic Church has continued with the illegal activities despite complaints from the Commission and some of the victims chained in dilapidated structures at the church.

The Commission, she said has opened a Short Messaging Service (SMS) number-22359 asking members of the public to volunteer information about the activities of the church for appropriate action to be taken.

To avert the traffic of mental health patients to religious organizations, Odede asked the national and county governments to improve access to comprehensive and quality mental health services across all levels of health care.

This, she said, must be coupled with early identification mechanisms and follow up of patients to help address the mental illness problem in the country.

“The commission is urging the national and county governments to prioritize developing and strengthening family based care and support systems for persons with mental illness as well as sensitization programmes on their care and management,” she said.

She further called on stakeholders including families, communities and religious organizations to help fight stigma and discrimination which she said continues to be a barrier to social inclusion for persons with mental health issues.

“The commission commends the victims and their families for speaking out and demanding justice. Such action serves as a constant reminder to the relevant government agencies on the need to take firm action,” she said.

On Sunday, a contingent of police officers raided the church following an expose in the media and discovered 23 mentally ill people detained at the church.

Due to the deplorable conditions at the buildings where they are detained, the county government of Kisumu moved to court to compel Father Pesa to release the victims.

The matter is scheduled for hearing on Friday.

By Gabriel Odhiambo and Michelle Luchetu

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