Autopsies conducted on corpses found in mass graves tied to a religious cult in Kenya have shown missing organs and raised suspicions of forced harvesting, investigators said. A fresh round of exhumations resumed on Tuesday.
The discovery of mass graves in April near the Indian Ocean coastal town of Malindi has stunned the deeply religious Christian-majority nation in what has been dubbed the “Shakahola forest massacre”.
According to the police, the majority of the bodies belong to followers of the self-styled pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, who is accused of ordering them to starve to death “to meet Jesus”.
While starvation appears to be the main cause of death, some of the victims – including children – were strangled, beaten or suffocated, according to the chief government pathologist, Dr Johansen Oduor.
Court documents filed on Monday detailed that some of the corpses had their organs removed, with police alleging the suspects were engaged in forced harvesting of body parts.
“Postmortem reports have established missing organs in some of the bodies of victims who have been exhumed,” the chief inspector Martin Munene said in an affidavit filed to a Nairobi court.
It is “believed that trade on human body organs has been well coordinated involving several players”, he said, giving no details about the suspected trafficking.
Munene said Ezekiel Odero, a high-profile televangelist who was arrested last month in connection with the same case and granted bail on Thursday, had received “huge cash transactions”, allegedly from Mackenzie’s followers who sold their property at the cult leader’s bidding.
The Nairobi court directed the authorities to freeze over 20 bank accounts belonging to Odero for 30 days.
So far, a total of 133 people have so far been confirmed dead, the interior minister, Kithure Kindiki, said on Tuesday after resumption of exhumations, which were suspended last week because of bad weather.
“Search and rescue efforts for persons suspected to be holed up in the thickets and bushes have been going on,” Kindiki said.
Questions have been raised about how Mackenzie managed to evade law enforcement despite a history of extremism and previous legal cases.
The ex- taxi driver turned himself in on 14 April after police acting on a tipoff first entered Shakahola forest, where over 30 mass graves have now been found.
Prosecutors are asking to hold Mackenzie, who founded the Good News International church in 2003, for another 90 days until investigations are completed.
The senior principal magistrate Yusuf Shikanda said he would rule on the request on Wednesday.