3 Americans jailed for 6 months on armscharges
in Zimbabwe

After a web of arguments and conflicting views on intention, three American men who insisted they are missionaries rather than mercenaries have been found guilty (on Friday, September 10) and jailed (on Monday July 13, 1999) for possessing arms of war by a Zimbabwean court on 1999. The sentencing by a High Court judge in this southern African nation ends the strange saga of Gary Blanchard, 36, John Lamonte Dixon, 36, and Joseph Wendell Pettijohn, 35, who called themselves gun-loving missionaries and later alleged they were brutally treated in prison. The government originally accused them of being mercenaries and denied the mistreatment.

Judge Ismael Adams gave each the same concurrent sentences: six months for possessing weapons of war, and 21 months (with nine suspended) for taking dangerous materials aboard an airliner. Adams credited them with time served after their arrest March 7, and with time off for good behaviour, the three could be out in November. They had faced up to life in prison.

In convicting them on Friday, Adams found the men had violated Zimbabwe security laws that forbid unlicensed offensive weapons and had tried to transport guns in their baggage on a Zurich-bound Swissair flight from Harare on March 7.

Blanchard, Dixon and Pettijohn say they belong to the Indiana-based Harvestfield Ministries Pentecostal church. During the two-week trial, Blanchard and Pettijohn testified that they closed down their mission in the war-torn southern DRC town of Lubumbashi and concealed 43 handguns and rifles and other weaponry in the panels of their truck.

They said they had taken the weapons to DRC for self-defence and hunting, and wanted to take them back to the United States. Adam said the men admitted that the number of weapons they took to DRC may have been excessive, even considering the chaos in 1997 when dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was ousted. In 1998, a year-long civil war began.

The bitterly controversial case seemed against their interests by the fact the men were armed, apparently beyond hunting equipment. When the men were arrested trying to load weapons onto a Swissair flight at Harare airport on March 7, Zimbabwean government officials accused them of being "spies", "mercenaries" and "assassins", sparking demonstrations against the United States. However, when the case came to court, initial charges of plotting acts of terrorism were dropped and replaced with the charges on which they were convicted.

The men admitted possessing weapons, but said they were trying to ship them home to the United States via Zurich after keeping them for self-protection and hunting while working as missionaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The three men have already been in jail for six months and say they were tortured with electric shocks to their genitals and severely beaten after their arrest. - USAfricaonline with reports from Sapa/AFP/news24