Dual British-Norwegian national Joshua French was sentenced to death by firing squad in 2009 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), along with Norwegian national Tjostolv Moland. On the morning of 18 August 2013, Joshua woke up to find Tjostolv dead in their cell. After over four years of unimaginable suffering, he had committed suicide.
Joshua and Tjostolv, who were accused of murder, attempted murder, criminal conspiracy, armed robbery and espionage, were first sentenced to death in Kisangani, Eastern DRC in September 2009. Both men have always maintained their innocence. There was no physical evidence against either of them and witnesses for the prosecution have given conflicting and inconsistent testimonies throughout the process.
At the end of April 2009, Joshua and Tjostolv travelled into DRC from Uganda on a motorbike. When their motorbike broke down in Kisangani they hired a car and a driver, Abedi Kasongo. Two Congolese passengers travelled with them. Several hours into the journey, in the middle of the rainforest, the driver Kasongo, was shot and killed. Fearing for their lives, Joshua and Tjostolv fled from the incident and escaped into the dense jungle. Both were arrested a few days later and were charged with Kasongo’s murder, as well as several other crimes.
After his arrest, Joshua, who has a Norwegian mother and British father, was brutally tortured and was forced to sign a confession after being beaten and subjected to a mock execution.
Joshua and Tjostolv were tried before military courts – a violation of DRC’s own constitution which stipulates that only members of the armed forces and the national police can be tried by military courts. Witnesses who testified against them received payments of US$5,000 each, almost five times the annual wage of many Congolese people.
At their first trial the men understood little of what was said – the trial was held in French, a language that neither speaks. There was no interpreter for a large part of the proceedings. 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. These were not little slip-ups: the interpreter mistranslated “security guards” as “spies”, turning the case for their innocence into a false admission of guilt. Both men were given multiple death sentences.
Joshua and Tjostolv both caught malaria on several occasions, leading to prolonged illness. Tjostolv in particular became seriously ill with cerebral malaria, which led to him suffering from delusions; during the appeal hearings he could be seen laughing one minute and crying the next. The appeal judge claimed that Tjostolv had been poisoned purposely in order to delay the proceedings and had his doctor arrested. Tjostolv’s lawyer was also threatened with arrest.
Unsurprisingly, the Appeal Court upheld Joshua and Tjostolv's death sentences. During the reading of the judgment, which took several hours, the chief judge complained that the interpreter was slowing things down and asked him to stop translating.
In April 2010, the Military High Court in Kinshasa quashed Joshua and Tjostolv's sentences because two of the judges were replaced during the appeal, and the case was sent back to Kisangani. On Thursday 10 June 2010 Joshua and Tjostolv were once again sentenced to death.
Prison conditions in the DRC are extremely poor, and fall far below international minimum standards. Many cells lack electricity, running water or sanitary facilities. In December 2011, following riots at their prison in Kisangani, both men were moved to Kinshasa.
Tragically, on the morning of 18 August 2013, Joshua woke to find Tjostolv dead in their cell. He had committed suicide. Years of living under the threat of death and no resolution in sight had inevitably taken its toll. Tjostolv’s death has left his family and friends devastated and Joshua is now facing some of his darkest days in the DRC. It is vital that the Norwegian and British governments do everything they can to support Joshua and ensure his safe return to Norway.