Mother of Briton facing execution in Congo appeals to David Cameron

April 11, 2012

Prime Minister David Cameron has today been urged to take action in the case of Joshua French, a British national facing execution in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Despite significant doubts over their innocence and the fairness of their trial, co-defendants Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland, a Norwegian national known to his friends as Mike, lost their final appeal against charges of murder and espionage on Thursday 10th June 2010. They now face execution by firing squad, sharing 11 death sentences between them.  

President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo now has the power to reduce the men’s sentences and remove the possibility of execution. It is therefore vital that representations on Joshua’s behalf are now made at the highest levels of government; in particular, a clemency plea must come from Prime Minister himself to carry any weight.

In a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, Reprieve explains why it is now crucial that both he and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway get directly involved in the case, and supports the call of Joshua’s mother Kari Hilde that this be done without further delay.

Joshua’s mother, Kari Hilde said:  “The decision whether or not to take Joshua’s life is in the hands of President Kabila.  It is now essential that both the Norwegian and the British Prime Minister become involved and ask, on behalf of their nations, that these young men be spared.  I request of the British Prime Minister to ask His Excellency President Kabila for a full pardon for my son. My son and his friend face excecution or life imprisonment, which in reality means death, and they deserve the full and unwavering support of their governments.”

French and Moland’s Norwegian lawyer Morten Furuholmen said: “Joshua and Mike are in real danger.  It is time for our governments to ask their most senior officials to fight on behalf of these men.  We have asked the Norwegian Prime Minister to get involved and it is essential that the British Prime Minister be part of these discussions.  Together our Prime Ministers have a real chance of saving two lives.  It is vital that they act now, before the wrong decision is made without them.”

Harriet McCulloch, Reprieve investigator said: “There can be no greater duty, ultimately, for a politician than helping to save the life of a British citizen. The British and Norwegian Foreign Offices have been working hard, but Joshua and Mike are almost out of options. We can only expect Congo’s Head of State to treat this situation with the gravity it deserves if the Prime Minister shows his commitment.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Katherine O’Shea katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk020 7427 1099/07931592674 or go to  www.reprieve.org.uk/joshuafrench. For more information please contact

2. Background:  In April 2009 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 Two Congolese passengers, Kepo Aila and Kasimu Aradjabu, 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. Fearing for their lives they fled from the incident and later escaped into the dense jungle.  French was arrested on 10 May 2009; Moland was arrested five days later.

Both men have always maintained they are innocent and that they were ambushed by gunmen. There is no physical evidence against them. The two witnesses, Kepo Aila and Kasimu Aradjabu, have given conflicting and inconsistent testimonies. “Evidence” put on by the prosecution includes photographs of two guns alleged to have been found on Moland’s computer; both these guns have been traced back to Norway, they have never left Norway. The prosecution also claim that the maps, compass and GPS system they were carrying proves they were spies.

After his arrest, Joshua 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 a military 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. In those hearings where an interpreter was present only a small part of what was said was translated and significant mistakes were made – French said that when he told the court he worked in security the interpreter translated it as he worked as a spy.

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.

At the end of last year Moland was extremely ill with cerebral malaria. He suffered from delusions and during the appeal hearings he could be seen laughing one minute and crying the next. The appeal judge alleged that Moland had been poisoned and had his doctor arrested. Their lawyer was also threatened with arrest. Unsurprisingly, on the 3rd of December 2009 their death sentences were upheld. 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.  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.

The DRC made a claim for USD 500 billion, an astronomical sum of money by any standards.  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.

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. In October 2009 the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, said “being imprisoned in a DRC jail is often a fate worse than hell… Prison over-crowding is shocking, even by the standards of a very poor country”.

3. 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’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.’

Website: www.reprieve.org.uk Twitter: @ReprieveUK