Joshua French, a dual British and Norwegian national who has spent eight years on death row in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has been released from prison on humanitarian grounds and is safely returned to Norway.
Joshua French and his friend Tjostolv Moland were twice sentenced to death in 2009 and 2010 following convictions for numerous offences, including murder and espionage by a DRC military court in Kinshasa, charges which both prisoners denied.
In 2014 Moland was found dead in their shared prison cell and, despite a post-mortem examination citing suicide as the cause of death, French was convicted of Moland’s murder.
French’s health has deteriorated significantly since Moland’s death and following the extended period he has spent in appalling conditions on death row.
The Death Penalty Project (DPP) have been providing French with pro-bono legal assistance since 2009 and have worked closely with the consular team at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in trying to resolve the case.
Along with Joseph Middleton, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, we have advised French and his lawyers in the DRC and Norway in hearings before the military tribunal and in subsequent appeals against his conviction and death sentence. We have also enlisted the support of medical specialists to advise on his case.
In 2015, amid growing concerns about French’s health, we instructed UK psychiatrist Dr Marc Lyall to travel to the DRC and assess his condition. Dr Lyall recommended French’s immediate transfer to the UK or Norway where he could receive appropriate medical care.
The Congolese authorities made the decision to release French on “humanitarian grounds”, after an agreement was reached with Norway.
We welcome the actions of both countries in securing French’s transfer to Norway. Saul Lehrfreund, Co-Executive Director of the DPP says:
“It has been a gruelling eight years for Joshua and his family. We understand that Joshua’s health was central to the decision for his transfer and we are extremely relieved that Joshua is now safely back in Norway where he can receive the medical care and treatment he so urgently needs.”
Source: The Death Penalty Project, May 18, 2017
Solberg: Joshua French has arrived in Norway
Prime Minister Erna Solberg confirmed at a press conference Wednesday that French has been transferred to Norway after eight years in prison in Congo.
– I am very pleased to confirm that Congolese authorities yesterday decided to transfer Joshua French to Norway. French came to Norway today and is now receiving the necessary medical follow-up. The burden on French and his nearest has been very large, “I am very pleased to confirm that Congolese authorities yesterday decided to transfer Joshua French to Norway. French came to Norway today and is now receiving the necessary medical follow-up. The charge for French and his closest has been very large, the case has aroused strong commitment and I am relieved that he is now in Norway, said Solberg.
The Prime Minister held the press conference together with Foreign Minister Børge Brende.
French was transported out of Congo in a suitable aircraft with competent personnel on board. Brende says that French arrived in Norway at 11 am on May 17th.
– The Congolese authorities have emphasized the humanitarian issues in the case and especially the consideration of the mother, Kari Hilde French. Her efforts and care for her son have impressed us all, says Solberg.
Solberg said it has been a very challenging case for Congo and Norway and that she is happy that they have found a solution.
According to Brende, the extradition decision came to the office of the President of Congo on May 16th.
– From the Norwegian side we are grateful for the flexibility Congolese authorities have shown. This case is very special, and therefore has been a priority for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (UD).
A considerable effort has been made over several years from the employees in the Foreign Service both in Norway and abroad. Today I would like to thank all who have contributed to finding a solution, Brende says.
Brende said that the case is the only enforceable death sentence against a Norwegian citizen abroad and that it has therefore received a high priority in the Foreign Ministry.
– No money has been paid in connection with the transfer or during the process or in the form of promises of future assistance, Brende stresses.
Not a transfer of a sentenced person
Brende stressed that there is an agreement on transfer of sentenced persons.
– This is important to emphasize: French has no convictions in Norway, Brende says.
Both Solberg and Brende also sent their thoughts to Tjostolv Molands family
– I would like to commend both families for follow-up of their sons, said Brende.
Facts about Joshua French and the Congo case:
- Joshua French (34) is Norwegian and British citizen. He started in co-operation with Tjostolv Moland, a security company in Uganda.
- French and Moland were in Congo when their driver Abedi Kasongo was killed on May 5, 2009. Both were arrested, suspected of murder. Both denied culpability.
- The military appeals court in Kisangani sentenced both June 10, 2010 to death for espionage, illegal weapons possession, attempted murder, armed robbery and for having formed a criminal association.Only Moland were convicted of the murder.
- The Norwegians did not appeal the death sentence, hoping to speed up the transfer of sentenced persons to Norway.
- On August 18, 2013, Tjostolv Moland, 32, was found dead in the cell he shared with French in the military prison Ndolo in Kinshasa. Congolese authorities at first concluded that he had committed suicide.
- December 2013 Joshua French was accused of having killed his friend.
- February 19, 2014, French was sentenced to life in prison in the Kinshasa military court for assassination on Moland.
- In August 2014, he was accused of attempting to escape after he was arrested outdoors. At the time, because of his severely reduced state of health, he lived alone in an apartment under guard.
- Norwegian authorities have long worked to get him either pardoned or transferred to serving his sentence in Norway.
- Congo’s Justice Minister, Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, in February told NRK that the president will pardon French sometime in 2017.
- Prime Minister Erna Solberg confirms May 17 that French is transferred to Norway.
- Minister of Foreign Affairs, Børge Brende, says that it is no question of a pardon or transfer of a sentenced person. French is transferred on humanitarian grounds, Brende states.
Source: Norway Today, Pieter Wijnen, May 17, 2017
Congo Releases British-Norwegian Sentenced to Death: Who is Joshua French?
After 8 years in a Congolese prison, 3 trials and multiple death sentences, a British-Norwegian former soldier is finally free.
Joshua French, 35, returned to Norway Wednesday after what was initially an ambitious attempt to set up a private security company in Africa morphed into a nightmare of almost a decade in detention and the death of his close friend and co-prisoner, Tjostolv Moland.
"We are very happy and relieved, especially on behalf of the family," French's lawyer, Hans Marius Graasvold, tells Newsweek from Oslo. "I was afraid that he wouldn't manage to hold on for as long as it took to reach a solution."
French's family, who have faithfully run a blog bringing attention to his case for the past eight years, rejoiced at his return. "Thanks to our dear son and brother for your vitality, strength and endurance. We finally got you home and the joy is indescribable!" wrote French's mother and sister, Kari Hilde French and Hannah French, in a Wednesday blog post.
Born in Norway to a British father and Norwegian mother, French spent part of his childhood in the U.K. and reportedly served in the British Army. But it was his career in the Norwegian military that would ultimately land him in trouble in Congo.
Congolese authorities arrested French and Moland, another ex-Norwegian soldier, in May 2009 on suspicion of killing their driver, a 47-year-old Congolese man named Abedi Kasongo. The Norwegian pair had traveled to Congo allegedly to set up a private security firm and said that their vehicle had been ambushed by gunmen, who had killed Kasongo.
The pair were put on trial later the same year at a military court in Kisangani in the lawless eastern Congo. The court convicted them of multiple charges - including murder, attempted murder and espionage - and sentenced both of them to death. Norwegian authorities complained that the men had not been given a fair trial, while witnesses were paid $5,000 each to appear, according to British charity Reprieve.
The verdict was overturned in April 2010 by a separate Congolese court due to flawed procedures. But in June of that year, a tribunal in Kisangani again found the men guilty of murder and, once again, sentenced them to death and also ordered the Norwegian state and the 2 men to pay $65 million in damages to the Congolese government. (Congo has not technically abolished the death penalty, and up to 500 people remain on death row in the country, but sentences are rarely carried out - the last execution was in 2003.)
After 4 years in prison, French's story took a tragic twist. On August 18, 2013, French woke up at the Kinshasa prison where he was being held to find his friend Moland dead. Norway immediately sent investigators to Congo to determine the cause of Moland's death, and a joint Norwegian-Congolese probe found suicide was the cause, according to Reprieve. But despite that finding, Congolese prosecutors put French on trial for Moland's murder and convicted him in February 2014, despite the fact he was suffering from psychosis and refusing to eat for periods during the trial. French was sentenced to life imprisonment.
During French's long imprisonment, Norwegian authorities have continually sought to engage their Congolese counterparts in the hope of securing his release, with the assistance of British government officials. In February, Congo's Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the country's president, Joseph Kabila, had agreed to set French free later in the year. But there were fears that the Norwegian's ill health could mean that he would die in prison: French's mother wrote on May 7 that he had been admitted to hospital 4 times during his imprisonment and had spent 5 1/2 months in hospital in 2016. "Our greatest wish is to get Joshua French home alive before it is too late," she wrote.
But French's eventual release appears to have been more the result of Congolese authorities running out of patience than of Norwegian mediation efforts. Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende said Wednesday that French had been transferred as part of a "humanitarian deal," but that the Congolese government had not pardoned his alleged crimes and that no money had been paid for his release.
Graasvold, French's lawyer, says the ex-prisoner is currently in hospital, but declined to comment on the specifics of his health. But Graasvold does say that French is not expected to serve any time in prison in Norway: "He will receive all necessary medical help but other than that he's a free man."
Source: newsweek.com, May 19, 2017
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