The bodies of seven people were found in a mass grave in an indigenous area of Panama that is controlled by a religious sect.

The deceased include a pregnant woman and five of her children.

Authorities believe that a religious sect performed an exorcism on the victims in the Ngäbe-Buglé region in the north-west of Panama. A further 15 were freed from alleged captivity.

Ten people have been arrested on suspicion of murder so far.

On Thursday, prosecutors announced that they were investigating the case.

Senior prosecutor Rafael Baloyes said that the grave was discovered after locals alerted authorities last weekend about several families being held against their will by an indigenous-run church.

The victims included a pregnant woman and five of her children, while the 15 freed people suffered bodily injuries, a police official confirmed.

Exorcism is a religious or spiritual ritual carried out to supposedly cure people of demonic possession.

The area the bodies were found in a remote area about 250km (155 miles) from Panama City. It is controlled by a religious sect called the New Light of God, the BBC reported.

According to the source, one of those arrested is the father of the pregnant woman found in the grave.

Last year, one person was found dead after an apparent homicide in Panama City.

In 2018, around 250 priests from 50 countries attended the Vatican’s annual exorcism course due to increasing demand among some of the world’s Catholic communities.

In the Catholic Church, exorcisms are performed by trained priests who recite prayers and excerpts from the Bible intended to drive out demonic entities.

(With inputs from agency)