The discovery of these mass graves last month in a forest near the coastal town of Malindi on the Indian Ocean shocked this country, whose majority of its population is Christian.
Two Kenyan priests appear before the judiciary on Tuesday on suspicion of involvement in the death of at least 109 of their followers, whose bodies were found in what has become known as the “Chakahola Forest Massacre”.
And the discovery of these mass graves last month in a forest near the coastal town of Malindi on the Indian Ocean shocked this country, whose majority of its population is Christian.
Before the Malindi court, Pastor Paul Nthingi Mackenzie, who founded the “Good News” church in 2003, is accused of inciting his followers to starve to death “to meet Jesus.”
The hall was crowded with relatives of the victims, while six policemen took McKenzie and eight other defendants.
McKenzie consulted with his lawyer, George Kariuki, who told AFP, “We have not been informed of the request that the prosecution wants to submit, and we are waiting to find out.”
So far, a total of 109 people have been confirmed dead, the majority of them children. The first autopsies were conducted on Monday of nine children and a woman.
An autopsy confirmed that the cause of death was hunger, noting that some of the victims died of suffocation, according to the authorities.
innocent and weak
Wealthy pastor Ezekiel Odero, known for his sermons on television, is expected to appear in court in Mombasa, Kenya’s second city, following his arrest.
Odero is suspected of murder, assisted suicide, kidnapping, extremism, crimes against humanity, child abuse, fraud and money laundering.
Prosecutors are seeking to detain him for an additional 30 days, and point to credible information linking the bodies found at Chakahola to the deaths of many “innocent and vulnerable followers” of the New Life Church he founded.
A number of his supporters gathered in front of the court and sang and prayed, and some of them had tears in their eyes.
The former taxi driver turned himself in on April 14 after the police, on tip-off, went to Chakahola Forest, where 30 mass graves were found.
Prosecutors confirm the connection between Odero and Mackenzie, and say in court documents that the two share a “history of business investments” including a television station used to broadcast “extremist messages” targeting their followers.
Questions arose about how McKenzie, who has a history of extremism, managed to evade security forces despite his fame and previous legal cases against him.
The shocking news prompted President William Ruto to vow to crack down on “unacceptable religious movements” and highlighted the failure of efforts to police rogue religious groups.
This week, Ruto will form a force tasked with controlling religious activities in Kenya, where the number of churches is about 4,000, according to what the Minister of Interior, Kethuri Kindiki, announced on Monday.
The minister said it was the government’s duty to “ensure that we do not violate the sacred right of freedom of worship, opinion and belief.”
“But at the same time, we cannot allow criminals to abuse that right, to harm, kill, torture and starve people to death,” he added.