Black Jesus behind bars

But says he did nothing wrong

Island Business, Fiji/December 14, 2010

The PNG cult leader whose notoriety and claims had captured international attention two years ago is now behind bars.

Steven Tari who named himself 'Black Jesus' was sentenced to 20 years by a PNG national court after being found guilty of rape.

Tari was able to avoid a crushing sentence of 52 years after the court presiding judge Justice David Cannings reasoned that it would be 'tantamount to imposing a life sentence' on the 35 year old.

He had raped four teenage girls who were part of the 63 'flower girls' in his 'Culture Ministry'.

It is believed he had sexually abused many of the girls but the state was only able to get four of the girls in the remote mountains of Madang to testify against the cult leader.

He was also suspected of being responsible for the deaths of two young girls allegedly killed in a sacrificial ritual. But the PNG police could not get any witnesses.

Tari's claim to the title 'Black Jesus' attracted the interest of international media, including the BBC which considered documenting his story. However, the provincial government did not give permission because of the negative publicity.

Throughout his three-year long court case, Tari had maintained he had done nothing wrong and was only following the laws of his 'ministry'.

He told the girls then aged between 15 and 17 that they needed to have sex with him in order for them to go to heaven.

The court found that the consent that each victim gave was not free and voluntary and Tari had abused his position of trust, authority and power.

Tari was raised by his mother and stepfather after his biological father had divorced his mother.

The judge described his upbringing as unstable after Tari told the court that as a child he was a 'street wanderer'.

His formal education went as far as Grade 5 although he had tried to do some training as a Lutheran church pastor at a bible college in Madang. However, he left the college and went into the mountains where he began his cult activities.

Tari's cult activities were revealed in 2005 when his followers numbering in the hundreds had clashed with the local people in the mountains of Madang.

The conflict resulted in two villages razed to the ground and hundreds of people fleeing for safety.

According to police, Tari had teamed up with some prison escapees who supported him in his work.

Initial attempts by the police to capture him failed due to the rugged mountainous terrain where he was operating.

Eventually, one of PNG's top police officers with specialist counter terrorist training planned and carried out a successful operation capturing him.

Tari was locked away awaiting court appearance when he managed to collude with a probation officer, who was a pastor of the Lutheran

Church and a secret follower of the cult.

The pastor managed to convince the court to release Tari under his care while waiting for trial.

However, Tari and the pastor disappeared into the mountains. He remained elusive until March 2007 when eight village men were secretly paid by police to set upon him while he was asleep and captured him.

He was trussed up like a pig and carried over the mountains and handed over to the police. He was locked away securely until last month when he was sentenced.

Tari's last word to the court when asked to speak was to warn that there would be a World War III.

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