In what is being referred to as the “Shakahola forest massacre“, two pastors are set to appear before Kenyan courts, suspected of being behind the deaths of at least 109 people discovered buried in mass graves. The shocking revelation has shocked deeply religious, Christian-majority Kenya. The two men, currently in detention, are scheduled to appear in courts in different towns today.
Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, the self-proclaimed pastor who established the Good News International Church in 2003, will appear in court in Malindi. He is accused of inciting followers to starve to death “to meet Jesus” at the nearby outpost of Shakahola. In the same forest, approximately 30 mass graves containing over 100 bodies, mostly children, have been unearthed.
Ezekiel Odero, a wealthy and well-known tele-evangelist, is also expected to appear in court in Mombasa following his arrest in Malindi. Odero faces accusations of murder, aiding suicide, abduction, radicalisation, crimes against humanity, child cruelty, fraud, and money laundering. Prosecutors are seeking to detain him for an additional 30 days, citing credible information linking the exhumed corpses to the deaths of several “innocent and vulnerable followers” from Odero’s New Life Prayer Central and Church.
Court documents reveal that Odero and Nthenge share a “history of business investments” including a television station allegedly used to transmit “radicalised messages” to their followers. The first autopsies from Shakahola, carried out on nine children and one woman, confirmed starvation as the cause of death, although some victims also experienced asphyxiation, according to authorities.
Questions have been raised about how the prominent self-styled pastor with a history of extremism has managed to evade law enforcement. This case has prompted President William Ruto to intervene regarding Kenya’s homegrown religious movements and failed efforts to regulate unscrupulous churches and cults involved in criminal activities.
This week, President Ruto will establish 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,” said Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki. “But at the same time, we don’t allow criminals to misuse that right to hurt, kill, torture, and starve people to death,” reports Bangkok Post.
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