Kenya on Thursday said that one of the country’s highest-profile pastors would face charges over the “mass killing of his followers” just days after the discovery of dozens of bodies linked to another church.
Ezekiel Odero, the head of the New Life Prayer Centre and Church, “has been arrested and is being processed to face criminal charges related to the mass killing of his followers,” Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said in a statement.
“The said church has been shut down. The over 100 people who were holed up at the premises have been evacuated and will be required to record statements,” he added.
Odero’s arrest comes on the heels of an ongoing investigation into Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, the cult leader accused of the deaths of 98 people linked to his church.
Police have not linked the two cases, and authorities have not provided further details about the nature of the allegations against Odero or his church.
Odero, dressed in his signature all-white garb and clutching a Bible, was transferred from the coastal town of Malindi where his church is headquartered to the regional police headquarters in Mombasa for questioning.
A wealthy televangelist who draws huge crowds — his church south of Malindi can seat 40,000 — Odero claims that “holy” scraps of cloth sold at his mega-rallies can heal sickness.
– Shock –
The government had promised a crackdown on fringe religious denominations after the discovery of dozens of bodies over the past week on a property near Malindi belonging to Nthenge.
The taxi driver-turned-preacher is accused of urging his followers to starve themselves to death as a path to God in a case that shocked the nation.
At least 22 people have been arrested over the gruesome saga so far.
More than half the bodies unearthed by investigators were of children, and police fear the death toll could rise as their search widens.
Kindiki had described the case as “the clearest abuse of the constitutionally enshrined human right to freedom of worship.”
But efforts to regulate Kenya’s dizzying array of churches and ministries have failed in the past, despite high-profile incidents of cults and rogue pastors being involved in crime.
Questions have emerged about how Nthenge was able to preach despite attracting police attention six years ago.
He was arrested in 2017 on charges of “radicalisation” after urging families not to send their children to school, saying education was not recognised by the Bible.
Nthenge was arrested again last month, according to local media, after two children starved to death in the custody of their parents.
He was released on bail of 100,000 Kenyan shillings ($700) but surrendered to police after a raid on his property in the Shakahola forest uncovered bodies.
Nthenge is due to appear in court on May 2.