Freedom of conscience, religion, beliefs, thoughts and opinion is one of the fundamental human rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
This means that every person is entitled to exercise that freedom through worship, practice, teaching or observance of a day of worship alone or with others.
The law also prohibits forcing a person to act or engage in any act that is contrary to his or her beliefs.
In exercising this fundamental right, members of the Kabonokia religious group in Tharaka-Nithi, Meru, Embu and Kitui counties have always found themselves in trouble, with some being imprisoned recently for declining to participate in the census, an exercise they termed “satanic”.
Their doctrine of reforms, “meant to prepare them for receiving a soon-coming Christ”, have exposed them to conflict with the government.
The group is led by Mr Gitonga M’Mpunguru, a 70-year-old who lives in Irunduni village, Tharaka North Sub-County, where most of the members are domiciled.
The church’s regional headquarters is at M’Mpunguru’s home, where the faithful frequently congregate on Sundays for worship.
The Nation visited the home last Sunday during a worship service.
Some 1,500 men, women and children sat quietly on logs under a makeshift structure made of poles and maize stalks as the roof.
A guide at the gate welcomed every person who arrived. Men sat on one side and women and their children on the other.
They do not build churches, because “they are passers-by on earth and have no time to waste building expensive structures that will soon be brought down by their coming God as he cleans the earth of sin with fire”, said M’Mpunguru.
The service was long. No drums, guitar, piano or any other instrument used in other churches when singing. They only clapped their hands as they sang while standing.
Led by M’Mpunguru, they read several texts from the Bible commonly used by Christians, and at 3pm the service was over and they made their final prayer while kneeling down with their foreheads touching the ground.
Unlike other churches, there was neither tithing nor offering, but a special prayer was made for their 46 members who were arrested and jailed for declining to be counted.
In the prayer conducted by M’Mpunguru and an assistant, they thanked God for giving their colleagues a chance to fulfil prophesy “as written in the Bible that Christ’s followers will be tortured during last days”.
They also forgave the government officers involved in arresting, prosecuting and jailing their members.
After service, most members left for their homes on motorbikes, bicycles and foot while about 200 who came from as far away as Tigania, Mwingi and Imenti spent the night there and left the following morning.
Mr M’Mpunguru said they are not shaken by government threats and that they are ready to be jailed for their faith.
To them, it is sinful to learn earthly knowledge that is taught in school because it contradicts the Bible.
“In school it is taught that man evolved a narrative against the Bible, which says he was created by God,” said M’Mpunguru.
He said that none of his children has stepped in a school, but he prayed to God and they are all able to read and write.
He added that they believe in God as their healer and don’t go to hospital to seek treatment from sinful human beings or accept their newborns to be immunised.
The septuagenarian said they also don’t engage in trade nor seek jobs because their work on earth is to worship God and just have enough property to feed their families and help those in need.
Recently, a Tharaka-Nithi County nurse resigned after joining the religious group and “went to serve God”.
Mr M’Mpunguru said they only accept farming as an income-generating activity.
In their gatherings, women are not allowed to speak; they should wait until they get home, where they can ask their husbands questions if they have any queries.
There are no marriage proposals in the sect, but men and women must wait until “the holy spirit” tells them who to marry or get married to.
They do not have national identity cards, birth certificates and they don’t participate in elections.
They also don’t ask for help from the government even during hard times like famine. “We trust in God in everything because all human beings, including those in government, get help from him,” he said.
On Thursday, County Commissioner Beverly Opwora held a public meeting at Gaceuni in Tharaka North and ordered an immediate crackdown on members of the Kabonokia sect who have prevented their children from going to school.
She also warned against those hiding their sick at home. “Education is compulsory, chiefs must make sure that all children from Kabonokia families must go to school,” she said.
She asked all religious leaders in the region to submit letters authorising their operations to deputy county commissioners’ offices for scrutiny and added that all adults above 18 years get ID cards.