Lawyers for Zimbabwe's Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa say they will appeal a three-month jail sentence given the cabinet member. A judge ordered the jail sentence after finding Zimbabwe's justice minister guilty of contempt of court. The judge also ordered Mr. Chinamasa to pay a fine of roughly $900.

Zimbabwe government officials sharply criticized the sentence. The interior minister called it "shocking and outrageous." And the minister's lawyers said they will appeal both the conviction and sentence.

The case arose from Mr. Chinamasa's strong criticism of jail sentences given to three Americans in 1999 for illegally possessing weapons. Zimbabwe's government repeatedly had said the Americans were part of an imperialist plot to destabilize the country. And Mr. Chinamasa - who was then Zimbabwe's attorney general - condemned the sentences as too lenient.

Mr. Chinamasa was charged with contempt of court, but he repeatedly ignored orders to answer the charges in court. He reportedly was out of the country when his jail sentence was handed down Wednesday.

The judge said Mr. Chinamasa's refusal to appear in court is serious because he is an experienced lawyer and familiar with all aspects of Zimbabwe law. He said it is difficult to imagine a more deliberate and contemptuous response to the authority and process of the court than displayed by the justice minister.

Critics say Mr. Chinamasa has played a leading role in maneuvering independent judges out of office and replacing them with judges considered to be more sympathetic to the government.

Zimbabwe police have ignored hundreds of court orders since Mr. Chinamasa became justice minister. And, the Law Society of Zimbabwe says much of the fabric of the country's justice system is no longer effective.