One of Kenya's most influential pastors, arrested on Thursday, is accused of the "mass murder of his followers", a new religious scandal in a few days in the country still shaken by the death of nearly a hundred followers of another " church".
Ezekiel Odero, head of the New Life Prayer Center and Church, "has been arrested and is facing criminal charges in connection with the mass murder of his worshippers", said the Minister of Interior Kithure Kindiki in a statement.
“The said church has been closed. The more than 100 people who were locked in the premises have been evacuated”, adds the minister.
The prefect of the coastal region Rhoda Onyancha announced Thursday morning her arrest in the city of Malindi. Ezekiel Odero, all dressed in white, Bible in hand, was transferred to the regional police headquarters in Mombasa.
The well-to-do televangelist usually draws crowds to his church, which seats some 40.000 people south of Malindi. According to him, pieces of "sacred" fabrics sold at his gatherings can cure illnesses.
This arrest comes as the authorities announced measures against "unacceptable" cults, qualified as "terrorists", after the discovery of dozens of bodies of followers of another sect, the International Church of Good News (Good News). News International Church), which shocked the East African country.
A total of 98 people - the majority of them children - have died after following the precepts of "pastor" Paul Mackenzie Nthengue, who preached extreme fasting as a way to meet God.
Investigators fear finding new victims during the search for mass graves which continues in the Shakahola forest, about 80 kilometers west of Malindi.
Police have made no connection between the arrest of Ezekiel Odero and Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, who is currently in custody.
At least 22 people have been arrested in what is now called "the Shakahola massacre".
Prosecutions for "terrorism" are envisaged against Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, indicated Tuesday Mr. Kindiki.
Kenyan President William Ruto, who likened Mackenzie to a "terrorist, promised action against self-proclaimed pastors, "who want to use religion to promote shady and unacceptable ideologies."
This case also raised many questions about the flaws of the police and judicial authorities, who had known the "pastor" for several years.
He was first arrested in 2017, accused of "radicalization" because he advocated not sending children to school, claiming that education was not recognized in the Bible.
He was arrested again last month, after two starving children were killed by their sect-linked parents. He had dismissed the charges and was released on bail of 100.000 Kenyan shillings (about 670 euros).
There are more than 4.000 churches in Kenya, a country of around 50 million people, according to official figures.
The Editorial Board (with AFP)