Stop unlawful raids of worship places, clergy warn police officers

Pastor Ezekiel Odero's New Life Centre Church in Mavueni, Kilifi County. [Joackim Bwana, Standard]

The clergy from Western Kenya have warned police officers against carrying out unlawful raids at places of worship.

The religious leaders accused police officers of harassment and intimidation, all in the name of carrying out inspections.

Led by the Western Region Clergy Association Chairman Samwel Welimo, they want the police to leave that work to the two task forces appointed by President William Ruto to probe cultic teachings in places of worship and make recommendations.

This is after mass graves were discovered at Shakahola in Kilifi County of the faithful, who were forced to starve to death by controversial Preacher Paul Makenzi. Already 237 bodies have been exhumed.

Valid reasons

Speaking in Busia County in a meeting with area County Commissioner Stephen Rutto, they alleged that some churches were barred from holding night prayers and crusades, with some church leaders arrested without valid reasons.

“We are not against any investigation or inspection, but the police cannot regulate the churches through such unwarranted arrests and unlawful inspections by police officers,” said Bishop Welimo.

Welimo said church leaders in Lurambi, Butula and Bumala constituencies in Busia County report that police officers and local administration had barred churches from holding night prayers and crusades.

They are demanding that police consult them before any kind of inspection is carried out.

“We have seen village elders, chiefs, and police just sneaking into any church without any reason stating that they are doing the inspection. This is wrong, and such activities should be left to relevant church bodies and the established task force, “said Welimo.

Bishop John Sereka from Busia Chapter urged police to leave the investigation matters into religious teachings to the two taskforces formed by President William Ruto.

“We have seen our men of cloth being summoned by police left, right and centre by policemen. As bishops, we see this as a clear harassment to churches by people who do not understand God’s teachings,” said Sereka.

Sereka said the security officers were going against the procedures, saying they should wait for the task force to release their findings and recommendations for police to take over the investigation matters.

Sereka observed that they have faith in the task force but faulted its composition claiming many religious umbrellas were left out, which could have given deeper insight into the probe of cult-like teachings.

“Police are not doing their work based on the law because we are being ambushed for the inspection without being given a notice nor a search warrant by the police themselves,” said Bishop James Wanyama, chairman of Busia Bishops Forum.

The clerics condemned the Shakahola killings and demanded that Makenzi be punished over the deaths.

Barely two weeks ago, police in Bungoma raided a branch of Pastor Ezekiel Odero’s New Life Prayer Centre in the Sikata area, on the outskirts of Bungoma town.

Bungoma Police Commander Francis Kooli said the summons and inspection are for the public interest and in line with upholding the rule of law in light of the recent events.

“We are just looking into various religious activities and teachings, whether they are within the limits of the law whether intending to protect the public from harm,” said Kooli.