Nairobi (Agenzia Fides) - Another twenty bodies have been recovered in the Shakahola forest, in south-eastern Kenya, bringing to 133 the number of followers killed in collective suicide by forced fasting (but some of the bodies show signs of strangulation or asphyxiation suggesting homicide), ordered by the "preacher" Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, head of the Good News International Church" (see Fides, 5/3/2023). Some 65 people found fasting in the forest were rescued and taken to hospital.
The search operation in the Shakahola Forest, which began in mid-April, had been suspended for several days due to bad weather, with hundreds of people still reported missing.
"There are still several pits in the forest, which leads us to conclude that we are dealing with a highly organized crime", Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki told reporters. Authorities expect to recover more bodies in the coming days.
Kindiki has denied a report by the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI), the Kenyan criminal police, according to which some of the recovered corpses had been deprived of several organs, suggesting trafficking in human organs (probably not for transplants, but to carry out "magical rites").
The Minister of the Interior has responded to those who ask for more government control to prevent citizens from being victims of sects such as the "Good News International Church". The State - the minister assured - is committed to upholding freedom of worship and will hunt those misappropriating religious influence for ulterior motives. "The government is not at war with religion, but is focused on ridding the country of rogues advancing extremism and criminal activities under the guise of religious liberty", Kindiki said during an event organized to raise funds for activities in favor of children with mental and physical disabilities.
To this end, on May 4, President William Samoei Arap Ruto created a special "presidential task force" to review the law that regulates worship in Kenya, the Legal and Regulatory Framework Governing Religious Organizations in Kenya. Composed of 17 members, including Archbishop Maurice Muhatia Makumba, Archbishop of Kisumu, the taskforce's main responsibilities, among other things, "will include identifying gaps that have allowed extremist religious organisations to set up shop in Kenya, as well as formulate a legal framework preventing radical religious entities from operating locally".
Meanwhile, Ezekiel Odero, another "telepreacher" accused of having helped Paul Nthenge Mackenzie in his exploits and for some suspicious deaths that occurred within his "church", the New Life Prayer Center and Church, has been released on bail (see Fides, 4/5/2023). (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 10/5/2023)