(Nairobi) Ezekiel Odero, one of Kenya’s most influential Protestant pastors, appeared in court on Friday on suspicion of being linked to the ‘Shakahola Massacre’, a case involving the discovery of more than 100 bodies in a forest from the southeast of the country.
The head of the New Life Prayer Center and Church was arrested on Thursday. The prosecution requested that he be kept in detention for an additional 30 days to allow the progress of the investigations.
According to a court document seen by AFP on Friday, the famous televangelist is under investigation for “murder”, “assisted suicide”, “kidnapping”, “radicalization”, “crimes against humanity”, “cruelty against children”, “fraud and money laundering”, among others.
The arrest follows the imprisonment of another pastor, Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, accused of pushing his followers to fast to death “to meet Jesus.”
More than 30 mass graves have so far been discovered in the Shakahola forest, about 80 kilometers from the coastal town of Malindi where Ezekiel Odero was based. Search operations were suspended on Friday due to bad weather.
According to a still provisional report, at least 109 people were killed in this “massacre”. But all of them might not be members of Pastor Mackenzie’s Good News International Church.
“There is credible information linking the exhumed bodies […] at Shakahola” with “several innocent and vulnerable followers [of the Odero church] who are believed to have died,” Mombasa prosecutors say in the document seen by the court. AFP. “The police have established that several murders did take place within the premises of the Ministry of New Life” in the locality of Mavueni, not far from Malindi.
Investigators also want to verify information that “after the death of the innocent and vulnerable worshipers [of Odero], their bodies were kept in a private morgue […] before being transported and buried in the forest of Shakahola”.
A former fisherman who became a “pastor” about fifteen years ago, Ezekiel Odero is known throughout Kenya.
His YouTube channel has half a million subscribers and he used to draw crowds to his church in Mavueni, which can hold up to 40,000 people.
Vice President Rigathi Gachagua’s wife even appeared alongside him in December during one of his “crusades” (giant rally) at Kasarani Stadium in the capital Nairobi, the largest in the country (60,000 seats).
This arrest could broaden the investigation into the “Shakahola massacre” which has rocked Kenya for a week, causing horror, misunderstanding and criticism of the authorities.
As early as Monday, President William Ruto promised action against those “who want to use religion to promote shady and unacceptable ideologies,” likening Paul Mackenzie to a “terrorist.”
Visiting the Shakahola forest for the second time in less than a week, Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki announced on Friday a major reshuffle within the region’s security services with the transfer of key officials, without further ado. Retail.
The Kenya Communications Authority has suspended two television stations associated with Ezekiel Odero and Paul Mackenzie Nthenge for broadcasting “inappropriate content”, including exorcism.
The authorities have come under fire from critics since the revelation of the “massacre”.
Paul Mackenzie Nthenge had indeed been arrested in 2017, accused of “radicalization” because he advocated not sending children to school, then again last March, after the death of two starving children by their parents linked to the sect.
He had been released each time. In prison after surrendering to police on April 14, he is due in court on May 2.