Joshua French ordered to pay US$500 million to the Democratic Republic of Congo as his death sentence is upheld by military ‘appeal court’

December 3, 2009

Image of Joshua French

A military tribunal today confirmed that British/Norwegian national Joshua French is facing execution following the failure of his appeal at 4pm local time in Kisangani, the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

The military also ordered French and his Norwegian co-defendant Tjostolv Moland (in solidarity with Norway) to pay US$ 500 million in ‘compensation’.

French and Moland were sentenced to death by the military in September for the murder of Abedi Kasongo and for ‘spying’ on Norway’s behalf. The appeal judgments were due to be handed down last Saturday but were delayed after one of the five judges questioned the prosecution’s evidence. It has been reported that two of the other judges slept through much of the original trial.

During the reading of the judgement, which took several hours, the chief judge complained that the interpreter was slowing things down and asked him to stop translating. The court also said it had new evidence, referring to Moland’s recent ‘confession’; Mr Moland has been suffering from cerebral malaria and hallucinations for some time now and believes he has spiritual contact with a pygmy.

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said:

“Today, in the farce that substitutes for military justice in the DRC, the judge wanted to dispense with translators. Apparently Joshua French did not have to understand the process that led to his death sentence. The ‘legal process’ has so far included torturing Joshua, parading him around town in front of lynch mobs, and forcing him to sign statements under threat of death. The British government must redouble its efforts to end this nightmare.”

Reprieve’s Legal Director Sally Rowen said:

“The DRC’s own Consitutution requires that Joshua be tried in a legitimate civilian court, and with good reason. Justice cannot be delivered down the barrel of a gun. The prosecution has presented no physical evidence tying either Joshua or Tjostolv Moland to the alleged crimes, while the ‘compensation’ demands are laughable. The British government must make urgent and forceful representations to put an end to this farce”.

-ENDS-

For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674 or visit www.reprieve.org.uk/joshuafrench.

Case background

1. At the end of April of this year French and Moland travelled into DRC from Uganda on a motorbike trip. When their motorbike broke down in Kisangani they hired a car and a driver, Abedi Kasongo, to take them back to Uganda. Two Congolese passengers travelled with them.

2. Several hours into the journey, in the middle of the rainforest, the driver, Kasongo, was shot and killed. The authorities allege that French and Moland killed Kasongo, but both men maintain that they were ambushed by gunmen. Fearing for their lives they fled from the incident and later escaped into the dense jungle.

3. After his arrest, French, who has a Norwegian mother and British father, was forced to sign a confession after being beaten and subjected to a mock execution. After an extremely brief trial, held before a military court in a language neither man understood, the Military Court of Kisangani Garrison sentenced both French and Moland to death. Witnesses who testified against them received US$5,000 each in compensation, an astronomical sum of money in DRC where people earn as little as US$3-4 a day.

4. The tribunal also ordered the Norwegian government to pay US$60 million ($1 for each Congolese citizen) ruling that the fact that French and Moland were carrying identity cards from the Norwegian Military proved that they were spying for Norway.

5. The initial claims of compensation were more than US$500 billion. Money appears to be playing a significant part in these legal proceedings. The Norwegian authorities have categorically denied that the men were in any way involved in espionage for Norway.

6. Both men are former soldiers. French was born in Norway but lived in the seaside town of Margate, Kent as a child. He moved back to Norway when his parents divorced, but returned to the UK aged 20 and served in the British Army. He also served in the Norwegian Army where he met Moland. They both left the Norwegian Army in 2007 and worked as security guards in various places, including the Gulf of Aden where they worked guarding against pirates.

7. French and Moland are being tried in the military courts – a clear violation of the DRC’s own constitution, which stipulates that the jurisdiction of the military courts is limited to offences committed by members of the armed forces and the national police.

8. Military courts trying civilian cases is far from uncommon in the DRC, however, and the military courts claim they have jurisdiction over any offence involving firearms regardless of whether the defendants are military or civilian. The right to a fair trial is constantly violated and judges and generals regularly abuse their power.

9. In September 2007 the Commander of Operations in Kisangani, General Jean-Claude Kifwa (aka Tango Tango), ordered the arrest of three military magistrates who had objected to two pending cases being tried in the military rather than in the civilian court system – the magistrates had said they did not believe the military court system had jurisdiction. One of the magistrates escaped, but soldiers stripped and severely beat the other two in front of their families and took them to the Katele military camp, where they were again beaten. The following day, Kifwa ordered his security detail to put the two magistrates on public display during a military parade. Three delegations from Kinshasa – two military delegations and one composed of the justice and human rights ministers – investigated the case, but nothing happened and Kifwa retained his position.

10. On 8 September the Tribunal sentenced French and Moland to multiple death sentences. French and Moland understood little of what was said during the trial which was held in French which neither speaks. There was no interpreter for a large part of the trial and for those hearings where an interpreter was present only a small part of what was said was translated and even then mistakes were constantly made – French said that when he told the court he worked in security the interpreter translated it as he worked as a spy.

Prison conditions

Prison conditions in DRC are appalling; cells are extremely small for the number of prisoners they hold and many cells have no windows, lights, electricity, running water or toilet facilities. Health care is inadequate and infectious diseases rampant.

Both men have caught malaria and while French seems to have responded well to treatment Moland is suffering from psychosis as a result of cerebral malaria – during an appeal hearing he could be seen laughing one minute and crying the next, another time he got up and tried to walk out of the court room.

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve
PO Box 52742
London EC4P 4WS
Tel: 020 7353 4640
Fax: 020 7353 4641
Email: info@reprieve.org.uk
Website: www.reprieve.org.uk

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900, Registered Company No. 5777831 (England)
Registered Office: 2-6 Cannon Street, London EC4M 6YH;
Chair: Lord Bingham; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner