Military in the Democratic Republic of Congo holds ‘show trial’ appeal hearing for Joshua French, Briton facing execution, with neither Joshua nor his lawyer present

March 31, 2010

 Briton Joshua French was yesterday due to plead for his life in an appeal hearing at the Military High Court in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Instead, both Joshua and his lawyer were trapped hundreds of miles away in Kisangani, eastern DRC, while the hearing went ahead without them.

Their absence was due to the Court’s failure to give Joshua’s legal team adequate notice, informing them of the crucial hearing only last Friday. Because Joshua’s defence lawyer is based in Kisangani, where Joshua is imprisoned, he relies on UN flights to Kinshasa which must be booked at least five days in advance — a fact that can hardly be unknown to the Court. A judgment will be handed down within eight days.

Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said: “Like the rest of the proceedings against Joshua, yesterday’s appeal was a mockery of justice. He was not present, his lawyer was not given sufficient notice to be present. To paraphrase the famous Irishman, a system where they hold appeals in absentia really only has the right to carry out executions in absentia. The government must continue to make every effort to get this man basic fairness.”

Joshua and his friend Tjostolv Moland received multiple death sentences on 8 September 2009 for murder and espionage. Joshua, who has a Norwegian mother and British father, had been forced to sign a confession after being beaten and subjected to a mock execution. Joshua is receiving assistance from Norwegian lawyers Morten Furuholmen and Marius Dietrichson, together with Parvais Jabbar and Saul Lehrfreund of the Death Penalty Project and Reprieve. 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.

Notes for Editors:

Case background:

At the end of April last year Joshua French and his co-defendant Tjostolv Moland travelled to the DRC from Uganda on a motorbike trip. When their motorbike broke down in Kisangani they hired a car and a driver, Abedi Kasongo, to drive them to Beni where they had a friend who would be able to take them back to Uganda. Two Congolese passengers travelled with them. 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. The authorities also allege that French and Moland are Norwegian spies, and that the maps, compasses, GPS system, mobile phones and cameras they were carrying prove this. 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.

On 8 September 2009 French and Moland were sentenced to multiple death sentences for murder and espionage. These sentences were upheld on appeal on 3 December 2009. The Appeal Court also ordered French, Moland and Norway to pay the DRC US$ 500 million in damages. Both the trial and appeal were held in French, a language which neither French nor Moland understands. Large parts of the proceedings were not translated and at the appeal verdict hearing the judge told the interpreter to stop translating because “it was taking too long”.

Over time the State’s case has changed drastically. As evidence, the prosecution has produced photographs of two guns – both photographs were taken in Norway and neither weapon has ever left Norway. During the appeal Moland was suffering from cerebral malaria. He was extremely ill and was hallucinating. The prosecution allege that during this time he wrote a letter confessing that he was a spy and that he killed Kasongo. This letter has not been disclosed to the defence. An independent panel of doctors instructed by the court concluded that Moland was suffering from a psychosis and recommended that he be referred to a neuro-psychiatrist. This was ignored by the Court. The judge even accused Moland’s doctor of poisoning him and had him arrested.

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.

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. 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. 

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 are rampant. Both men have caught malaria several times. Reprieve:

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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Katherine O’Shea ReprieveTel: 020 7427 1099Mob: 07931592674

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