The trial in Zimbabwe of three American missionaries accused of possessing weapons of war has turned into a power struggle between the executive and judicial branches of the Zimbabwe government.

Citing evidence that the three American defendants were tortured while incarcerated, Judge Ismael Adams gave them unusually light sentences in mid-September. The government quickly announced its intention to appeal.

On March 7, authorities arrested Gary Blanchard, John Lamonte Dixon, and Joseph Wendell Pettyjohn, all missionaries with Indianapolis-based Harvestfield Minis tries, at Harare Airport (CT, May 24, 1999, p. 28).

The men carried a cache of weaponry in their suitcases and in a vehicle they left in a public parking lot, including 21 rifles, two automatic assault rifles, 22 handguns, 31 bayonets, nine silencers, seven telescopic sights, machine-gun ammunition, and four machine-gun stands. The collection also included 70 knives and three devices for administering electric shocks.

The Americans did not deny possessing the firearms or trying to smuggle them onto an airliner. Jonathan Wallace, the organization's leader in Indianapolis, says that the men did "nothing more than deliver medicine, clothing, and seeds to poor Africans." He says the men needed the guns for protection, hunting, and recreation.

Judge Adams gave the defendants the same concurrent sentences: six months for possessing weapons of war and 21 months for taking dangerous materials aboard an airliner. "The leniency of the sentences constitutes a betrayal of all civilized and acceptable notions of justice and of Zimbabwe's sovereign interests," Attorney General Patrick Chinamasa said when announcing he would appeal the sentences.

With time off for good behavior, the three could be released this month. But an appeal by the government could take longer, forcing the men to remain in prison.

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