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Press Release: 'British National Sentenced to Death in the Democratic Republic of Congo Has Sentenced Quashed by Military High Court'

  • News
  • 23 Apr 2010

On 22nd April 2010, the Military High Court in Kinshasha (DRC) quashed the death sentences imposed on Joshua French, a British national, and his co-accused, Tjostolv Moland, and ordered a retrial to take place “as if nothing had happened”.

The Military High Court found that the lower courts had falsely applied and violated a number of provisions within the Military Penal Code.  The Death Penalty Project welcomes the decision, particularly in light of the flagrant human rights violations suffered by the two defendants during their incarceration and trial.  Nevertheless, there is good reason to remain concerned given the procedural flaws of the military court system in the DRC and the possibility that French and Moland may be re-sentenced to death.

The appeal itself, which was heard by the Military High Court on 30th March 2010, was heard in absentia, with neither French nor his lawyer present. They were only given two working days’ notice that the hearing had been scheduled and were subsequently unable to undertake the arduous journey from Kisangani, where French is currently imprisoned, to Kinshasha.

Joshua French, who holds dual British and Norwegian nationality, and his co-accused Tjostolv Moland, were initially arrested in May 2009. Despite their civilian status, they were tried by a military tribunal and found guilty of murder, attempted murder, robbery, unlawful possession of a firearm and espionage, and sentenced to death by firing squad in September 2009.  Both men appealed to the Military Tribunal of the Eastern Province, but their appeals were dismissed in December 2009.

In addition to conducting the latest hearing in absentia, the Congolese courts and authorities have subjected French and Moland to a succession of violations of due process and degrading treatment.  Both men, who had previously served in the Norwegian Army, were found guilty of espionage despite the categorical denial of the Norwegian authorities that the men were in any way involved in espionage for Norway. Furthermore, confirmation that French and Moland were no longer in active service was provided to the Congolese authorities by the Norwegian Defence Staff.  In spite of this, both men were tried in a military, rather than civilian, court due to their possession of weapons and their former status as soldiers.  During the trial, much of the proceedings took place without sufficient translation and as a result, French and Moland were unaware of the prosecution’s case against them.  Since their arrest, both men have been subjected to numerous and protracted incidents of violence, intimidation, mock executions, threats and demands for money by the Congolese authorities and very poor conditions of detention.

The two men have been held in squalid conditions in Kisangani Central Prison.  Many cells have no windows, lights, electricity, running water or toilet facilities, and healthcare is inadequate. During the appeal hearings before the Military Tribunal of the Eastern Province, both Moland and French were suffering from malaria.  Despite this, they were both forced to stand for much of the process.  It became apparent that Moland in particular was critically ill and he was subsequently hospitalised and diagnosed with malaria-induced psychosis.   Alleged confessions given by Moland during his state of psychosis were used by the prosecution in the case against him. Moland’s doctor, who was responsible for his diagnosis and treatment, was later arrested.

Since 2001, the DRC has implemented a de facto moratorium on the death penalty.  From 2003 onwards, all death sentences have been commuted to life imprisonment.  Whilst the DRC government had assured the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Stoere, that the executions would not take place, the fate of these two men remains uncertain. Of particular concern was an article in the Norwegian newspapers on 16thMarch 2010, reporting that the head of the prosecution, Colonel Gaston Shomai, was pushing for the executions to be carried out by firing squad if the Military High Court confirmed the ruling of the Military Court of the Eastern Province.

Executive Directors of The Death Penalty Project, Saul Lehrfreund and Parvais Jabbar, state:

We are greatly relieved by the decision of the Military High Court to quash the sentences imposed on French and Moland, thereby removing the reported threats that the two men would have faced imminent execution by firing squad if their case was dismissed by the High Court. Nevertheless, Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland remain in a dire situation. They stand accused of the most serious offences and may potentially be re-sentenced to death by firing squad by the Military Courts. Both men have been held in extremely poor conditions of detention, they have been very badly treated by the authorities prior to their trial, and there were evident flaws in the trial process which may be repeated. Both French and Moland should never have been tried by the Military Courts in the first place. Any retrial that takes place within the military court system is of grave concern and constitutes a violation of basic due process principles enshrined in the Constitution of the DRC.

We are greatly relieved by the decision of the Military High Court to quash the sentences imposed on French and Moland, thereby removing the reported threats that the two men would have faced imminent execution by firing squad if their case was dismissed by the High Court. Nevertheless, Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland remain in a dire situation. They stand accused of the most serious offences and may potentially be re-sentenced to death by firing squad by the Military Courts. Both men have been held in extremely poor conditions of detention, they have been very badly treated by the authorities prior to their trial, and there were evident flaws in the trial process which may be repeated. Both French and Moland should never have been tried by the Military Courts in the first place. Any retrial that takes place within the military court system is of grave concern and constitutes a violation of basic due process principles enshrined in the Constitution of the DRC.

1. In November 2009, The Death Penalty Project was approached by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and asked to provide legal advice and assistance to Joshua French and his lawyers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Death Penalty Project has instructed Joseph Middleton and Ben Silverstone from Doughty Street Chambers to assist in the case. In addition, both French and Moland are represented by the Norwegian law firm Furuholmen and have received the assistance of the UK-based charity Reprieve . 2. The Death Penalty Project is an international human rights organisation housed in the offices of Soho legal firm Simons Muirhead & Burton, providing free legal representation to individuals facing the death penalty. The organisation receives generous support from the Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Oak Foundation, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and by a grant from the Foundation of the Open Society Institute. 3. For further information please contact Saul Lehrfreund or Parvais Jabbar, Executive Directors of the Death Penalty Project at Simons Muirhead & Burton.

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