Joshua French, Briton facing military execution in Democratic Republic of Congo, reports illegal raid on prison; Reprieve calls on Foreign Office to ensure Joshua’s safety

June 14, 2011

Reprieve is calling on the British government to make urgent representations to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to stop the illegal raids of the prison in which Briton Joshua French and his co-defendant Tjostolv Moland are held.

The two prisoners have reported that gangs dressed as UN authorities — but refusing to provide requisite identification — entered Kisangani Central Prison and, after threatening prisoners with violence and execution, proceeded to steal money, food, electronic equipment and tobacco from their cells and ransack what was left.

Reprieve calls on the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to:

• Ensure the safety of Joshua French immediately• Demand that Joshua French is moved from the remote Kisangani Central Prison to a safer prison in the capital Kinshasa• Seek immediate assurance from the DRC government that the death threats made to Joshua French are not carried out by the DRC military • Seek answers from the UN on the purported raid

Dual British/Norwegian national Joshua, 29, and Norwegian Tjostolv Moland, 30, have been imprisoned since 2009, when they were sentenced to death by firing squad by Kisangani’s military tribunal. Throughout the case, the tribunal made repeated demands for money from the defendants and anyone connected with them. Witnesses were paid exorbitant sums for their testimony.

Prison conditions in Kisangani Central Prison are appalling; cells are extremely small and many have no windows, lights, electricity, running water or toilet facilities. Both men have caught malaria and Tjostolv Moland has been suffering from psychosis as a result of the disease.

Reprieve investigator Katherine Bekesi said: 

“Exasperatingly, the British government continues to drag its feet on this case, seemingly unconcerned by the dangerous conditions and relentless injustice that is a daily reality for Joshua French. This raid should serve as a wake-up call – this prisoner desperately needs help.”

Joshua French’s mother Kari Hilde French said: 

“Urgent questions must be asked concerning the four representatives from MONUSCO/UN. If their representatives were genuine then the UN has a big job to do to ensure that their representatives behave in a way befitting their status.”

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.

ENDS

Notes for Editors:

Case background

1. At the end of April of 2009 Joshua French and Tjostolv 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.

‘Compensation’ paid in the case

The full list of compensation requested and awarded:

• Mrs Olendjeke (victim’s wife) and her six children: claim of US$12 million for the definitive loss of her husband whom she would have wished to have for life, to maintain her and provide for the full education of the children. For the children, the loss of a guiding figure, their father and therefore the loss of their material and financial support of their source of income. Awarded: US$370,000 (wife: $30,000, Eugenie (the oldest child) $40,000 and $60,000 each for the other five children)

• Relatives of the victim: US$5 million for the fact of having torn from their affections in such a savage manner their brother and son, and the loss of hands and material and financial support for the entire family. Awarded US$50,000 ($10,000 each)

• Congo Association of Drivers: US$3million for the loss of a trusted man. Awarded US$5,000

• Mr Gaby-Nganzua (owner of the Toyota Land Cruiser): US$1 million & $400/day for the assassination of the trusted driver and the armed threat of his vehicle. (The Toyota was returned to him.) Awarded: US$25,000

• Mr Kepo Aila and Mr Kisimu Aradjabu (witnesses): US$10 million. For Kipo for his honour, terror, the threat of certain and sudden death in a violent and brutal manner. The trauma caused by the action and the mindless flight into the forest in a state of high emotion. For Kasimu for suffering, pain, the threat of death, flight into the forest and the risk of being devoured by wild animals, wounded in his self-esteem, in his life and in his personality. Awarded US$5,000 each

• DRC: US$ 5billion for the espionage and the illicit possession of military weapons and ammunition. Awarded: US$60,000,000 (equivalent to US$1 for each Congolese citizen).

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 27 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.