Kisumu County sues Father John Pesa over 'church prisoners'

Coptic Holy Ghost Church leader Father John Pesa

Coptic Holy Ghost Church leader Father John Pesa when appeared before a Kisumu court on January 24, 2023.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

The County Government of Kisumu has sued Holy Ghost Coptic Church of Kenya Founder Father John Juma Pesa and his Church for holding 23 mentally ill "patients" in deplorable conditions.

In the petition, the County Department of Public Health has listed the Holy Ghost Coptic Church of Kenya administration, Father Pesa, the Church Director and family members of the ‘detainees’, as first, second, third and fourth defendants respectively.

In the application dated January 20, 2023 filed under certificate of urgency, the county department of health accused Father Pesa of contravening the Public Health Act Cap 242 and food drugs and chemical substance Act cap 254 Laws of Kenya.

Father Pesa, who was present in court as well as tens of his loyal congregants who accompanied him, appeared before Winam Court's Senior Principal Magistrate Fatuma Rashid.

The church, however, argued that it were served the petition a few hours before coming to court and therefore needed time to respond.

“My lord, our client received the application yesterday evening after working hours and I only got a copy this morning. We have not had time to peruse the documents. Proceeding with the case today will only be prejudicial to my client and amounts to curtailing his rights,” said Father Pesa’s advocate.

He added that the natural law principle should apply and he requested for another date.

He also requested for the status quo to remain.

However, Mr Wycliffe Owuor, the Chief Public Health Officer who represented the county in court stated that the case was urgent owing to the situation the affected people were in.

“You honour, this case is urgent considering the situation of the concerned people, their plight and their health conditions which is deplorable,” said Mr Owuor.

Right to be heard

The Senior Principal Magistrate considered the arguments of the two parties and stated that as much as the situation is dire, the defendants have the right to be heard.

“I have considered both parties and hereby order the defendants to file responses by Thursday 26th ahead of the hearing on Friday 27th,” said Ms Rashid.

Earlier, the department of health officials had told the Nation, they are seeking closure of the church and evacuation of everyone in the premises until it is made habitable and its deplorable condition improved to hold patients.

One of the “mentally ill patients” detained at The Holy Ghost Coptic Church in Kisumu County

One of the “mentally ill patients” detained at The Holy Ghost Coptic Church in Kisumu County peers from his cell on January 22, 2023.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

Ms Lilyana Dayo, Kisumu County Director of Public Health revealed to the Nation it was important for them to follow the right legal procedure to address the crisis at the church to save lives.

Ms Dayo said they had visited the church premises and were astonished at the pathetic state the patients were living in.

The Nation had unearthed disturbing violations of human rights abuse, where innocent people are chained, denied meals and kept in solitary confinement where they see the sun only once a week.

She accused Father Pesa of violating public health regulations saying they have collected some evidence which they will be presenting before the magistrate hoping to convince the court to order closure of the church.

The County director of public health stated that the sanitation at the facility is wanting, same to the state of the patients who are malnourished.

"We will be pushing for the closure of the church and evacuation of the patients until it is made habitable for human beings," said Ms Dayo.

A contingent of police officers at The Holy Ghost Coptic Church in Kisumu

A contingent of police officers at The Holy Ghost Coptic Church in Kisumu to rescue people who had allegedly been detained by Father John Pesa on allegations of being mentally unstable on January 22, 2023.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

Ms Dayo said some of the buildings where the said detainees were, had their walls weakened and their deplorable state can have them collapse anytime.

The public health department also wants to assess those with mental health issues so that they can be helped.

"We want our officers to carry out assessment on the patients to establish whether they will need counselling or full time treatment at our facilities," said Ms Dayo.

The summons come at a time when local police have sprung to action, tracking down the relatives of the patients, in a bid to rescue them.

This follows a Nation exposé detailing how more than 30 mentally ill people are being detained at the mysterious Coptic Holy Ghost Church in Kisumu.

Kisumu County Police Commander Alphonse Kimanthi said authorities are trying to contact the relatives or guardians who had brought the "patients" to the church for healing before they can evacuate them from the premises.

Mr Kimanthi said they are not allowed to rescue any patients or hospitalise them without the consent of their guardians.

The authorities are also facing a challenge in that the available guardians who have their people detained at the facility, are not willing to offer consent for their discharge saying the hospitals had failed in healing their loved ones and that is why they resorted to spiritual healing.

The church has forms that relatives of the patients have to sign before they are admitted for prayers. They also have to come with letters from assistant chiefs of their areas of origin as well as their hospital records.

The long procedure of tracking down victims has slowed down the rescue mission, which first began last week after the authorities got wind of human rights violations happening at the church under the guise of prayers.