On the 17 May 2017, the Norwegian Prime Minister announced Joshua French had returned home after eight years imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Joshua was held in appalling conditions in the DRC after he and close friend Tjostolv Moland received multiple death sentences in September 2009. Their trial failed to meet even basic due process standards. Following Tjostolv’s tragic suicide in August 2013, Joshua’s physical and mental health critically deteriorated.
Reprieve worked with Joshua’s family to urge the British and Norwegian Governments to do everything within their power to secure his transfer so that he could receive the care that he needed.
Joshua, a dual British-Norwegian national, and Tjostolv, a Norwegian national, travelled into the DRC from Uganda by motorbike in April 2009. When their motorbike broke down they hired a car and a driver and continued their journey with two Congolese passengers. Several hours later, in the middle of the rainforest, the driver was shot and killed in an ambush. Fearing for their lives, Joshua and Tjostolv fled into the dense jungle. Both were arrested a few days later and were charged with murder, espionage, and several other crimes. Both men have always maintained their innocence.
After his arrest, Joshua was brutally tortured, forced to sign a confession and subjected to a mock execution.
Even though he was a tourist, Joshua’s trial was conducted in a military court and the proceedings were held in French – a language he didn’t speak. No physical evidence was produced against either him or Tjostolv. The prosecution witnesses, who gave conflicting and inconsistent testimonies, had each been paid US$5,000 to appear, over ten times the average annual salary in the DRC. Joshua and Tjostolv were both sentenced to death by firing squad.
In August 2013, after four years of unimaginable suffering, Joshua awoke to found that Tjostolv had committed suicide in their shared cell. A joint Norwegian-Congolese investigation was opened, which found unanimously that Tjostolv’s death was suicide. The matter appeared to be closed until a number of weeks later when, in spite of the conclusive evidence, Joshua was suddenly charged with Tjostolv’s murder.
Joshua’s trial began in early 2014. Shortly into proceedings, and under unbearable strain, Joshua suffered a severe breakdown in his mental health. Despite clearly not being capable of standing trial, the proceedings against him continued. He was found guilty and received a further life sentence.
Joshua was rushed to hospital on a number of occasions, only to be told that there is no doctor in the country with the expertise or equipment to treat him. Joshua needed to be transferred out of the DRC for medical care and Reprieve called upon the British and Norwegian governments to do everything within their power to make this happen.
Finally, in May 2017, after eights years in prison, much of that on death row, Joshua returned home to his family in Norway.
Joshua French, a British man imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo who was facing the death penalty, has been given a life sentence for the murder of his best friend and cellmate despite expert reports having concluded the death was a suicide.
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