Two Kenyan Pastors In Court Over Cult Massacre
Two pastors who are suspected of being responsible for the killings of at least 109 persons who were found buried in what has come to be known as the “Shakahola forest massacre” have appeared before Kenyan courts today.
The discovery of mass graves in a forest close to the Indian Ocean coastal town of Malindi last month surprised the profoundly religious, predominantly Christian nation.
Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a self-styled pastor who founded the Good News International Church in 2003 and is accused of encouraging cult members to starve to death “to meet Jesus,” made an appearance in court in Malindi.
The small courtroom was crowded with victims’ family members when Mackenzie and eight other defendants were escorted in by around six police officers.
Mackenzie met with his attorney George Kariuki while donning a pink, black, and brown jacket and brown pants. Kariuki told AFP: “We have not been notified what application the prosecution wishes to make. We are simply waiting to find out.
The majority of the 109 reported fatalities to date are children. Nine children and one lady had their first autopsy from Shakahola on Monday.
Although some of the victims were asphyxiated, they confirmed that starvation was the cause of death, according to authorities.
Following his arrest in Malindi on Thursday, wealthy and well-known televangelist Ezekiel Odero is scheduled to appear in court in Mombasa, the second-largest city in East Africa.
Murder, helping suicide, kidnapping, radicalization, crimes against humanity, child cruelty, fraud, and money laundering are all things that Odero is suspected of.
The prosecution is requesting to hold him for an additional 30 days based on reliable information connecting the murders of several “innocent and vulnerable followers” from Odero’s New Life Prayer Centre and Church to the corpses exhumed at Shakahola. Outside the court, a group of his fans gathered, some of them were in tears, singing and praying.
According to court documents obtained by AFP, Mackenzie is charged with murder, kidnapping, and cruelty to children among other offenses. The former cab driver surrendered on April 14 when police entered Shakahola Forest, where some 30 mass graves had been discovered, based on a tip-off.
In prosecution records, prosecutors claim that Odero and Mackenzie are connected because they have a “history of business investments,” which includes a television station that broadcasts “radicalized messages” to followers.
How Mackenzie, a self-styled pastor with a history of extremism, has eluded law authorities despite his high profile and prior legal troubles has come under scrutiny.
President William Ruto intervened in Kenya’s domestic religious movements as a result of the horrifying tragedy, which also brought attention to the failure of efforts to control dubious churches and cults that have dabbled in criminal activity.
According to Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki, Ruto will establish a task team this week to determine how to regulate religious activity in Kenya, where there are roughly 4,000 congregations.
He stated that the government must “make sure we don’t infringe on the sacred right of the freedom of worship, opinion, and belief. But at the same time, we don’t allow criminals to misuse that right to hurt, kill, torture, and starve people to death.”