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Emaciated victims of Kenyan starvation ‘cult’? No, photo from Uganda

IN SHORT: In a shocking story that has attracted international attention, the bodies of several members of a reclusive church have been exhumed in Kenya. But one photo making the rounds on social media is not of the survivors.

In April 2023 Kenya was gripped by the gruesome story of a Christian cult in which it appears dozens of followers starved to death.

As of 25 April, police had recovered 81 bodies from shallow mass graves in Shakahola forest in coastal Kilifi county.

Followers of the Good News International Church were reportedly convinced that they would go to heaven and “meet Jesus” if they starved themselves. 

The death toll includes eight people who were rescued but later died. Others were hospitalised.

The church leader has been detained since 15 April. He is reportedly on hunger strike.

It is in this context that a photo of three emaciated men was circulating on Twitter, with the claim it showed three of the rescued church members. The photo was also shared on Facebook here, here, here, here and here

But is that accurate?


Photo shows men detained in Uganda

A reverse image search of the photo led to an article in the Daily Monitor, a Ugandan daily newspaper. 

The April 2023 story reported on how a group of men, arrested by the Ugandan army for allegedly cattle rustling, were ill and very thin when released.

The group, from the northern Ugandan district of Kotido, had been held in a prison in the city of Gulu for over a year, according to local lawmakers.

Prison authorities have denied detaining them.

The article includes a photo of 15 men. A closer look reveals that three of the men in this photo are the men in the photo circulating on Kenyan social media. One of them wears a pair of blue shorts with a distinct pattern.

We found the same image posted online by a social media account in Uganda on 7 April 2023, at least a week before the Kenyan story broke. It gave the same Ugandan context. The men in the photo are not surviving members of the Kenyan Good News International Church.

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