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African country arrests religious leader over child abuse allegations

African country arrests religious leader over child abuse allegations

Sixteen unregistered graves, including those of infants, have been found on the grounds of a church in Zimbabwe, according to police.

Police in Zimbabwe said they had arrested the leader of a religious sect, Ishmael Chokurongerwa, at a farm about 34 kilometers northwest of the capital Harare, where more than 250 children were allegedly used for forced labour.

The self-proclaimed prophet was arrested along with seven of his aides “for criminal activity that involves the abuse of minors”, The South African nation’s police spokesman, Paul Nyathi, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Authorities also discovered 16 unregistered graves, seven of which are infants, in a raid on a plot in Nyabira on Tuesday, according to the statement.

“Police found that all the school-age children were not attending formal education and were being exploited as cheap labor doing manual labor in the name of teaching them life skills,” Nyathi said.

Of the 251 children found, 246 had no birth certificate, he said, adding that more details about the case would be released. “in due course as investigations develop.”

Local media identified the religious group as Johane Masowe, an African church in white clothing that has existed in Zimbabwe for decades.

The state-run tabloid H-Metro reported on Thursday that women and children were evacuated from church premises, which worshipers described as “their promised land”, they were taken to hospital for medical tests to see if some had been sexually abused.

The news agency previously published a video on X (formerly Twitter) in which some religious women are confronted by the police and demand the return of children who were placed on a waiting bus.

“Why are they taking our children? We are comfortable here. We don’t have a problem here.” screamed one of the women in the video.

One of Chokurongerwa’s assistants also told the newspaper “God forbids formal education because the lessons learned in such schools are contrary to his dictates.”

“Our faith does not come from the scriptures, we got it directly from God, who gave us the rules to enter heaven. God told us it won’t rain when we send our children to school,” he said.

Kenyan doomsday cult leader accused of murdering 191 children

The Zimbabwean prophet’s arrest comes nearly a year after Kenyan police detained cult leader Paul Mackenzie for allegedly ordering his followers to starve themselves to death so they could “meet Jesus Christ before the end of the world.”

Last month, a court in the East African country charged Mackenzie and 29 of his followers with committing acts of terrorism, child abuse and torture after 429 bodies, including those of 191 children, were exhumed in a forest near his church.

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