Black Jesus awaits trial

Islands Business,Papua New Guinea/December 4, 2007

Papua New Guinea's notorious cult leader, Steven Tari, who calls himself 'Black Jesus.' is awaiting trial before the national court since his capture in March in the mountains of Madang province.

He appeared in October before Justice David Cannings at the Madang National Court but the case could not proceed because he had no lawyer to represent him. He has since agreed to a lawyer from the Public Solicitor's office to assist him.

The police have charged Tari with seven counts of sexual penetration of the flower girls who were members of his cult group. The girls were below the age of 16 at the time.

Tari has not entered a plea and when Justice Cannings advised him that should he wish to enter a plea, the case would then proceed.

However, Tari told the court: "Those women were flower girls and this was the work of the minister and permitted by religion (cult). And I don't know if the charges laid against me are wrong or right".

Tari used the word 'minister' to refer to the self-proclaimed title he had amongst his followers. His cult group used parts of the bible teaching together with beliefs of the Yali cult, which is the most influential cult that has existed in the area since World War II.

His case has been adjourned to this month.

Madang does not have a resident judge and is relying on a circuit judge to deal with national court cases.

The cult leader had a large following in the mountains of Madang province whom he had convinced that he was 'their saviour'. Police also alleged he was involved in human sacrifices, which led to the death of at least one victim.

A feature of his cult was the large group of flower girls he had kept. He was alleged to have had sex with them. Some of the girls are expected to testify against him.

Since his capture, cult activities in the area have eased and life has returned to normal for the local people.

Tari's claim to the title 'Black Jesus' also attracted the interest of the international media including the BBC who were interested in documenting his story.

He remained elusive for two years until he was seized by some villagers in March and handed over to the police. Tari is being held at Madang's Beon prison.

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