Kenya cult deaths: Pastor Ezekiel Odero arrested in funeral home probe

BBC News/April 27, 2023

By Dorcas Wangira and Robert Greenall

Kenyan police have arrested a popular televangelist and closed his church on the country's Indian Ocean coast following reports of mass deaths.

The move comes as investigations go on into a religious cult linked to the deaths of nearly 100 people.

Police have not formally connected the two cases.

Pastor Ezekiel Odero, famed for drawing huge crowds at his functions, was held hours after police inspected a funeral home near his church.

The police said morgue attendants had been collecting bodies at the New Life International Church premises, in Kilifi county.

"This morning we have arrested Pastor Ezekiel Odero on allegations of the deaths that have been occurring at his premises," Coast regional commissioner Rhoda Onyancha told reporters.

Kenyan Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said police had evacuated more than 100 people who were holed up at the church, and that they would be required to make statements.

The preacher has not responded to the allegations. He will appear in court on Friday.

Police are also investigating his alleged relationship to the controversial preacher Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, who is said to have told followers to starve themselves in order to "meet Jesus".

Kenyan authorities have already recovered 95 bodies of people suspected to have died of starvation and buried in shallow graves, at a 800-acre forest near his church in the same part of Kenya as Mr Odero's church. Many of the victims were children.

Mr Mthenge, who was arrested on 15 April and remains in custody, has denied wrongdoing. He insists that he shut down his church in 2019.

Kenya is a religious country and there have been previous cases of people being lured into dangerous, unregulated churches or cults.

But President William Ruto pledged earlier this week to crack down on religious leaders who violated the law. Robert Greenall

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