British-Norwegian found guilty of killing cell mate in Congo jail

KINSHASA Wed Feb 19, 2014 3:07pm EST

KINSHASA (Reuters) - A court in Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday found a British-Norwegian dual national guilty of killing his cell mate at a military prison where the two men were serving life sentences.

The victim, fellow Norwegian Tjostolv Moland, was found dead in his cell in August. Congo's government initially said Moland's death appeared to be a suicide but subsequently charged his cell mate and former business partner, Joshua French, with murder.

The two men had been serving sentences for murder and espionage after their driver was found dead in the jungle in 2009. The pair, both former servicemen, said they were setting up a local security business and denied the charges.

A military tribunal in the capital Kinshasa delivered the verdict against French, giving him another life sentence, in a public hearing that ended a trial that began on January 7.

French's mother, Kari Hilde French, was in the courtroom for the reading of the verdict.

"Today I witnessed my own son become a victim of what I call judicial murder," she later told Reuters.

"I'm astonished that the reports from the Norwegian pathologists, police and doctors were given hardly any weight by the court. They were just put aside," she said.

A Norwegian forensics team sent to Congo as part of Norway's consular assistance to French told the court that Moland had hanged himself.

The military prosecutor argued that French strangled Moland with a rope.

French's defense team said he is suffering severe mental problems due to the stress of the trial. He has the right to appeal the guilty verdict.

French and Moland's treatment in detention as well as doubts over the investigations and trials leading to their convictions have sparked concern among rights groups and diplomats.

"Life imprisonment in (Congo) for someone with such severe mental ill health as Joshua is effectively a death sentence," said Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, an organization that campaigns for the rule of law.

She called on the British government to intervene to ensure French's transfer to a hospital for treatment.

French has been receiving consular support from the British and Norwegian governments.

At the conclusion of their initial trial, a Congolese court handed down the death sentence for French and Moland and ordered the Norwegian government to pay more than $500 million in damages to Congo. The death penalty was later overturned by the military high court.

Norway denies the men were spies.

(Reporting by Peter Jones; Editing by Joe Bavier and Alistair Lyon)

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