Two pastors appeared before Kenyan courts, accused of being responsible for the grisly deaths of at least 109 people who were found buried in what has been dubbed the "Shakahola forest massacre." Mass graves were found last month in a forest close to the Indian Ocean coastal town of Malindi, shocking the deeply religious nation with a majority of Christians.
Paul Nthenge Mackenzie and Ezekiel Odero: The two pastors accused of cult massacre
Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a self-styled pastor who founded the Good News International Church in 2003 and is accused of inciting cult members to starve to death "to meet Jesus," made an appearance in court in Malindi on Tuesday (May 2).
Mackenzie and eight additional defendants were led in by around six police officers as the small courtroom filled with victims' relatives. He met with his lawyer George Kariuki while wearing a pink, black and brown jacket with brown trousers.
George Kariuki told AFP: "We have not been told what application the prosecution wants to make. We are just waiting to see."
The majority of the 109 reported deaths are those of children. An autopsy was done on nine kids and one woman on Monday (May 1).
Although some of the victims were asphyxiated, authorities confirmed that starvation was the cause of death, reported AFP.
Rich and well-known televangelist Ezekiel Odero is also scheduled to appear in court in Mombasa, the second-largest city in East Africa, after being detained in Malindi on Thursday.
Odero is allegedly responsible for killing, aiding suicide, kidnapping, radicalisation, crimes against humanity, child abuse, fraud, and money laundering.
The prosecution is asking for a 30-day extension of his detention, citing reliable evidence connecting the murders of multiple "innocent and vulnerable followers" of Odero's New Life Prayer Centre and Church to the corpses exhumed in Shakahola, reported AFP.
The former cab driver surrendered on April 14 after the police entered Shakahola forest following a tip-off where some 30 mass graves have been found.
Prosecutors claim that Odero and Mackenzie have a connection because they have a "history of business investments," which includes a television station that broadcasts "radicalised messages" to followers.
It has been questioned in court how Mackenzie, a self-styled pastor with an image of extremism, has avoided arrest despite his high profile and prior legal cases.
As a result of the tragedy, President William Ruto has intervened in Kenya's internal religious movements to draw attention to the failure of measures to control fraudulent churches and cults that dabble in illicit activities.
Ruto will put to work a task team this week to determine the best way to regulate religious activities in Kenya, which has roughly 4,000 churches, as per Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki.
(With inputs from agencies)