Police in race to trace relatives of mentally ill Kisumu 'church prisoners'

Holy Ghost Coptic Church

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 in this picture taken on January 22, 2023.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

Following a Nation exposé detailing how more than 30 mentally ill people are being detained at the mysterious Coptic Holy Ghost Church in Kisumu, local police have sprung to action, saying they are now tracking down their relatives afresh in a bid to rescue them.

Kisumu County 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.

 “Last week, we rescued about three people from the church but they could not be hospitalised unless their families authorise it. They were taken back to the church. That is why we have started contacting their guardians so that they can come and have them moved to the right facilities,” said Mr Kimanthi.

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.

 Earlier, a multi-agency team comprising police, national government administration offices and county public health workers camped at the church in a bid to rescue the patients. However, the challenge was getting those who had booked the patients in.

Some whose family members were within church premises blatantly refused to have their kin taken away, saying the hospitals had failed to improve the condition of their patients, thus why they had resorted to spiritual healing by Father John Pesa, the proprietor of Coptic Holy Ghost Church.

 The Nation has 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. 

 The Nation was tipped off by a source who claimed that some people were using the church to settle personal scores as well as getting rid of troublesome relatives in family succession battles.

 The church has also been accused of forcing patients to work without pay while in chains, a claim the church denies.

 Sources also say that only Father Pesa can determine whether an individual has been healed. The 71-year-old cleric has denied holding anyone against their will.

 In 2022 alone, more than 120 people were being held as “patients” at the church, but the number had reduced to about 30 by last week.