Kenya court frees pastor accused of links to cult leader

Detectives escort Ezekiel Ombok Odero at the police headquarters in Mombasa

MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - A Kenyan court on Thursday released on bond a televangelist detained last week as part of an investigation into the deaths of dozens of people whom police say starved themselves to death on the instructions of a cult leader.

Kenya's interior minister accused Pastor Ezekiel Odero after his arrest last Thursday of involvement in the "mass killing of his followers", without elaborating.

A document presented in court last week said police had established that several deaths were recorded at Odero's church and that those bodies may have been moved to a forest about 66 km (40 miles) away, where more than 100 bodies have been exhumed in the past two weeks.

The police believe most of those bodies belong to followers of the cult leader Paul Mackenzie, who is accused of ordering them to starve themselves to death so they would be the first to go to heaven ahead of the world's end.

Odero's lawyer Cliff Ombeta denied the state's accusations.

"No one has come forth to complain that their relative or kin died mysteriously at New Life Prayer Centre and Church," Ombeta said, referring to Odero's church.


Mackenzie, who is in police custody, has not commented publicly on the accusations against him nor been required to enter a plea to any criminal charge.

Two lawyers acting for him have declined to comment.

The judge in the court in Kenya's port city of Mombasa released Odero after ordering him to deposit a non-cash bond of 3 million shillings ($22,000) or alternatively pay bail cash of 1.5 million shillings.

At the hearing, Odero, dressed in his customary all-white garb and carrying a large Bible, sat in a secluded part of the courtroom.

Outside, more than 100 of his followers sang praise songs and celebrated the court's decision, shouting: "We have seen the hand of the Lord."

($1 = 136.3500 Kenyan shillings)

(Writing by Elias Biryabarema and George Obulutsa; editing by Aaron Ross and Andrew Cawthorne)