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Kenya: Pastor accused of "Shakahola massacre" remains in prison

Kenya: Pastor accused of "Shakahola massacre" remains in prison
Pastor Paul Mackenzie appears in court in Malindi, Kenya, May 2, 2023   -  
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A court on Wednesday ordered the continued detention of Pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, accused of killing at least 145 people in a southeastern Kenyan forest where followers of his evangelical sect were meeting.

Paul Nthenge Mackenzie will be prosecuted for "terrorism", prosecutors announced on May 2 in the case dubbed the "Shakahola Forest Massacre", which has caused a stir in the religious East African country.

A judge in the southeastern city of Mombasa ordered the detention of Pastor Mackenzie and 17 co-accused, including his wife, extended for 30 days from May 2, when they appeared in court.

Prosecutors had requested 90 days.

Twelve more bodies were discovered Wednesday in this forest on the Kenyan coast, announced the regional prefect Rhoda Onyancha, bringing the total number of dead to 145, including many children.

Autopsies on the first 112 bodies showed that most of the victims died of starvation, probably after following the preaching of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a self-proclaimed pastor of the International Church of the Good News, who advocated fasting "to meet Jesus.

Some of the victims, however, including children, were strangled, beaten or suffocated, the head of forensic operations, Johansen Oduor, said last week.

Autopsies also revealed that there were "missing organs on some of the bodies," the Criminal Investigation Department said in a court document seen by AFP on Tuesday, referring to "well-coordinated trafficking in human organs involving several actors.

Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki urged caution on the matter, saying it was "a theory we are investigating." "The morgue reports are still being finalized and I don't want to pre-empt the case," he continued.

Paul Mackenzie has been detained since he surrendered to authorities on April 14, after police discovered the first victims in the Shakahola forest. About 50 mass graves have been discovered since then.

Kenya's most influential pastor, Ezekiel Odero, was arrested on April 28 in connection with the case and released on bail last Thursday.

He is being investigated because of the possible presence of bodies of some of his followers among the bodies found in Shakahola. More than 20 bank accounts belonging to him have been frozen.

The massacre has rekindled the debate on the regulation of religious worship in Kenya, a predominantly Christian country with 4,000 "churches", according to official figures.

President William Ruto has set up a task force to "review the legal and regulatory framework governing religious organizations.

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