A court on Friday handed down sentences of up to 50 years for nine members of a sect who killed six children and a pregnant woman in an "exorcism" last year, prosecutors said.

In January 2020, investigators unearthed a mass grave with seven bodies in a remote indigenous area near to where they had raided an obscure religious sect the day before.

Six of the victims were minors aged between one and 17, and the seventh a woman who was between four and six months pregnant. She was the mother of five of the minors.

A court found the sect members guilty of tying up the victims and killing them with sticks, bibles and machetes in a so-called "exorcism" ceremony.

In January 2020, investigators unearthed a mass grave with seven bodies in a remote indigenous area near to where they had raided an obscure religious sect the day before In January 2020, investigators unearthed a mass grave with seven bodies in a remote indigenous area near to where they had raided an obscure religious sect the day before Photo: AFP / Luis ACOSTA

The woman had been killed in front of her five children and a sixth minor, who were then themselves slaughtered as sect members looked on.

Several other people were injured but managed to flee the scene. They alerted the police, who later found 15 people including several children held hostage at the sect's church.

A court in Changuinola in Panama's northeast gave the maximum prison sentence of 50 years to seven of the accused, and 47 years each to two others, the prosecutor's office said.