Kenya announced on Thursday that one of the country’s most prominent pastors would face charges for the “mass killing of his followers” just days after the discovery of dozens more remains tied to another church.
The head of the New Life Prayer Centre and Church, Ezekiel Odero, “has been arrested and is being processed to face criminal charges related to the mass killing of his followers,” stated Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki in a statement.
“The aforementioned church has been closed. Over 100 persons who were holed up at the location have been removed and will be forced 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.
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 detained in 2017 on allegations of “radicalisation” after advising families not to send their children to school, claiming that the Bible does not recognize education.
According to local media, Nthenge was detained again last month after two toddlers died of starvation while in the hands of their parents.
He was released on 100,000 Kenyan shillings ($700) bail after a raid on his farm in the Shakahola forest turned up bodies.
On May 2, Nthenge is scheduled to appear in court.A Kenyan pastor has been charged with’mass murdering’ church members.