The six – five Americans and a Zimbabwean – were arrested on Friday and have been held at Harare Central police station. They will appear in court on Monday on charges of operating without proper medical licenses, according to their lawyer in Zimbabwe.
Theophous Reagans, a minister at the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California, said by telephone on Sunday the church has been working in Zimbabwe for more than a decade and that this is the first time questions over licensing have been raised.
He said one of the Americans lives in Zimbabwe, while the others are among church members who visit three or four times a year, paying their own way to help at a home for Aids orphans the congregation has adopted.
“Our prayer and our hope is that they will be released,” (after Monday’s hearing), Reagans told The Associated Press.
The church’s work in Zimbabwe was started in 2000 by Robert C Scott, an Allen Temple member, Aids activist and doctor. Scott died last year.
“Dr Scott worked diligently for 10 years to build that ministry and serve,” Reagans said. “We want to continue.”
Reagans said most of Allen Temple Baptist Church members are black and feel a strong connection to Africa.
In 2008, at the height of a political crisis in Zimbabwe, the government accused independent aid groups of supporting opposition activists and barred them from distributing aid for three months.
Reagans said his church had not been affected by previous problems encountered by international aid workers in Zimbabwe.
“We really believe that for the last nine-10 years, we have been working in consort with the authorities in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Police say the church workers were being questioned about operating an unlicensed clinic and dispensing medicine without a pharmacist’s supervision.
“It is our duty to ensure that all clinics and medical institutions are registered for easy monitoring,” police spokesperson Augustine Zimbili told The Herald. “There is a risk of dispensation of expired drugs. When premises are not licensed, it is difficult to check if (the law) is being complied with.”
Jonathan Samukange, the lawyer in Zimbabwe representing the detained church workers, said they have proper licenses and were only supervising a pharmacy that mainly gave out Aids medications. – AP