Tanzania arrests fleeing pastor over death of 20 people in church stampede

Authorities fear the death toll could rise due to the size of the crowd and poor lighting when the stampede occurred.
Moshi residents in Kilimanjaro region, north Tanzania, grieve at Mawenzi hospital on February 2, 2020, after the death of her granddaughter who was killed in stampede yesterday at Majengo open ground during the church service where 20 people died and 16 injured rushed to get blessed oil. (Photo by FILBERT RWEYEMAMU / AFP)

Tanzanian authorities have arrested Pastor Boniface Mwamposa whose church service on Saturday led to a stampede that killed at least 20 people in the town of Moshi near Mount Kilimanjaro.

Home affairs minister, George Simbachawene said on Sunday that the pastor was arrested in Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam as he attempted to flee the country, a Reuters report said.

“Mwamposa tried to flee after this incident, but we arrested him in Dar es Salaam … he will be held accountable for causing this tragedy,” the minister said.

A journalist looks at the abandoned shoes and personal belongings after a stampede, as worshippers rushed to be anointed, during a church service at the Ushirika stadium in Moshi, near Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania February 2, 2020. REUTERS/Emmanuel Herman.

According to the minister, the stampede took place after the pastor instructed worshippers, who numbered some 10,000, to rush to one side of the stadium all at once to get anointed.

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At least 20 people were killed and more than a dozen hurt in the stampede as worshippers rushed to be anointed during the church service in northern Tanzania, officials said on Sunday.

Thousands of people had crammed into the sports stadium for the service on Saturday evening in the town of Moshi near Mount Kilimanjaro, with many getting crushed after the pastor called them to be anointed with “blessed oil.”

Boniface Mwamposa who switched off the lights, asked worshipers to rush for ‘blessed oil” he poured on the ground to get prosperity & cure for disease leaving 20 naive souls dead. Twitter/ali_naka

 “Twenty people died and 16 others were injured in the incident,” Moshi district commissioner Kippi Warioba told Reuters by telephone. Five of the dead were children, he said.

 “The stampede occurred when the worshippers were rushing to get anointed with blessed oil,” Warioba said.

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Authorities fear the death toll could rise due to the size of the crowd and poor lighting when the stampede occurred.

A plain police protects the main gate of Majengo ground township of Moshi in Kilimanjaro region, north Tanzania, on February 2, 2020 after 20 people were killed and and 16 injured in stampede yesterday evening at Majengo open ground, during the church service to get blessing oil. (Photo by FILBERT RWEYEMAMU / AFP)

“The incident took place at night and there were many people, so there is a possibility that more casualties could emerge. We are still assessing the situation,” Warioba said.

Tanzania has seen a rise in the number of “prosperity gospel” pastors in recent years, who promise to lift people out of poverty and perform what they call miracle cures.

Thousands of people in the nation of 55 million flock to Pentecostal churches, whose main source of income is “tithe”, the 10% or so of income that worshippers are asked to contribute.

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