KENYA- Two pastors are scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday, accused of being responsible for the deaths of at least 109 people discovered buried in the “Shakahola forest massacre”.
Kenya, a deeply religious country with more than 4000 churches, has been shocked by revelations of starvation as a means of seeking God.
Both men are in detention and are due to appear in court on Tuesday in different towns.
The self-proclaimed pastor Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, who founded the Good News International Church in 2003, will be arraigned in Malindi for inciting followers to starve to death, “to meet Jesus”, at the sleepy nearby outpost of Shakahola.
Following his arrest in Malindi on Thursday, Ezekiel Odero, a wealthy and well-known televangelist, is scheduled to appear in court in the East African nation’s second city Mombasa.
It is suspected that Odero is responsible for murder, suicide aid, abductions, radicalizations, crimes against humanity, child cruelty, fraud, and money laundering.
His arrest has been extended for a further 30 days on the basis of credible information linking the corpses exhumed at Shakahola to the deaths of several “innocent and vulnerable followers” from Odero’s New Life Prayer Central and Church.
Some 30 mass graves containing more than 100 bodies, most of them children, have been discovered in the forest where Mackenzie Nthenge gathered his flock.
The court documents seen by AFP accuse Mackenzie Nthenge, along with 13 others, of murder, kidnapping, cruelty towards children, among other crimes. He turned himself in after police entered the forest on April 14.
There is a “history of business investments” between Odero and Nthenge, including a television station from which “radicalised-messages” were sent out to followers.
On Monday, nine children and a woman underwent autopsies from Shakahola.
Starvation was confirmed as the cause of death, although some victims died from asphyxia.
Law enforcement has raised questions about how an extremist pastor despite having a prominent profile has evaded capture.
Furthermore, President William Ruto intervened on Kenya’s homegrown religious movements, but failed to regulate unscrupulous churches and cults.
In the coming week, Ruto will set up a task force “to deal with generally how we govern religious activities in our country and how we make sure we don’t infringe on the sacred right of the freedom of worship, opinion, and belief,” Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said.
“But at the same time we don’t allow criminals to misuse that right to hurt, kill, torture and starve people to death.”