Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Plea over Briton's DRC murder trial

Tjostolv Moland, left, and Joshua French were sentenced to death in 2009 after being found guilty of espionage and murder in the Democratic Republic of Congo

A former British soldier currently on death row in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is set to face trial tomorrow for the alleged murder of his cellmate and best friend.

Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland were sentenced to death in 2009 after being found guilty of espionage and murder, although both men maintained their innocence.

They were convicted for a second time for the same offences in June 2010 following a military retrial branded a ''farce'' by campaigners.

However, Mr French, who served in the Parachute Regiment, now faces a fresh murder charge after Mr Moland was found dead in the prison cell they shared on August 18 last year, despite an initial investigation which found he had taken his own life.

Legal charity Reprieve has called on the British Government, in letters to the Prime Minister, to intervene to prevent the trial or, at very least, have it transferred to a civilian court as it is set to be held in a military court, in violation of the DRC's constitution and international law.

It is understood that discussions had been taking place to transfer Mr French to a prison in Norway but the fresh proceedings have thrown this in to jeopardy.

Mr French's mother, Kari Hilde, said: "Joshua has already lost his best friend and nearly five years of his life. Now he's being falsely accused of murder. How much more will he have to endure before the British Government takes serious action?"

Reprieve said a post-mortem examination conducted jointly by Congolese Police and the Norwegian police agency Kripos confirmed that Mr Moland had committed suicide.

Mr Moland's father has written to the Congolese authorities asking for the charges against Mr French to be dropped but the request has not been answered.

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve's death penalty team, said: "The Government has already tarried too long.

"These are sham charges and the Prime Minister needs to intervene without delay to protect the rights of British citizen, Joshua French. If the trial goes ahead in a military court, Joshua may well be given a death sentence, and all hopes of him leaving the prison alive will be dashed."

Mr French and Mr Moland were convicted of murdering Abedi Kasongo, who had been hired to drive the two former soldiers after their motorbike broke down in April 2009. The 47-year-old driver was shot in the head 70 miles (113km) east of Kisangani.

French and Moland denied responsibility. They claimed that unknown gunmen ambushed them in the middle of a dense rainforest.

The trial saw witnesses provide conflicting testimonies and lacked physical evidence, Reprieve said.

It is also claimed that Mr French was beaten and subjected to a mock execution before being forced to sign a confession.

The prosecution told the courts that Mr Moland wrote a letter confessing he was a spy and was responsible for killing Mr Kasongo.

But the letter has never been given to his defence team.

At the retrial, both defendants were forced to stand for more than six hours in heats upwards of 40C (104F), it was claimed.

Mr French, who spent his childhood in Margate, Kent, trained as a British paratrooper before serving in the Norwegian army, where he met Mr Moland.

Both men left the forces in 2007 and worked as security guards in a number of locations.

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