HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A Zimbabwean court on Monday freed on bail four Americans arrested and accused of treating AIDS patients without proper medical licenses.
A magistrate ordered the six health workers, who included a New Zealand national and a Zimbabwean, to pay a $200 bail and to reappear in court on Sept. 27. They could face a fine and deportation if convicted. The court ordered them to surrender their passports and live at their Mother of Peace Orphanage outside Harare until their trial.
The six are also accused of distributing AIDS medications without a pharmacist's supervision or a license.
U.S. Embassy officials said the group pleaded innocent to the charges related to their work at two clinics, one in Harare and the other in Mutoko, 100 miles northeast of Harare.
The California church that sponsors their work says the church has been working in Zimbabwe for more than a decade and that this is the first time licensing questions have been raised.
American citizens Gloria Cox Crowell, 48, Dr. Anthony Eugene Jones, 39, Gregory Renard Miller, 64 and David Greenburg, 62, were thronged by children and family members from their Christian congregation as the left the courthouse. In emotional scenes, children ran up to hug the six health workers. Earlier inside the hearing, patients' faces were wet with tears.
The six were arrested Friday and spent three nights in notoriously cramped and filthy cells in the main Harare police station. They appeared in court Monday in the green and blue medical staff uniforms they wore on being arrested.
Defense attorney Jonathan Samukange described the alleged offenses as minor. He said in the past week the professional medical team had treated more than 3,000 patients.
"They were arrested in the scope of their duty. I am very embarrassed by the actions of our government in arresting people who are doing charity work. They are Christians ... not criminals," he said.
He said they had not been ill-treated by police while in custody.
The Americans belong to the Christian volunteer health service of the Allen Temple AIDS Ministry based in Oakland, Calif., and comprise one doctor, two nurses and a community volunteer.
Two medical doctors charged with them were Zimbabwean Tembikhosi Ncomanzi and Andrew Reid, a New Zealand national and longtime Zimbabwe resident known for his Christian activism and fiery preaching.
In a decade of political turmoil and economic meltdown, Zimbabwe's public health services largely collapsed, leading to acute shortages of equipment and medicines, including AIDS medication.
A fraction of impoverished AIDS sufferers receive the antiretroviral medication they need from public health facilities.