Court in Congo sentences 2 Norwegians, including one with UK citizenship, to death for spying

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Congo sentences 2 Norwegians to death for spying

KINSHASA, Congo — A military court on Thursday sentenced to death a British-Norwegian national and a Norwegian convicted of espionage and murder, a court official said.

Joshua French, the dual national, and Tjostolv Moland, both former Norwegian soldiers, were convicted last year of murdering their driver and attempting to murder a witness. The alleged motive is unknown.

The court in the northeastern city of Kinsangani also convicted them of spying for Norway because they were carrying military ID cards at the time. The Norwegian government has denied that the men were Norwegian spies.

Capt. Camille Alongani, the court clerk, said the two men will remain in jail in Kisangani. Lawyers for the two men said they have five days to file an appeal and they would be speaking with their clients to figure out next steps.

The British government said Thursday it deplored the sentence handed down on British-Norwegian national French, 28, and said it would work to appeal the conviction in conjunction with the Norwegian government.

Reprieve, which is assisting French’s legal team, said that he and his Norwegian associate Moland, 29, were sentenced following what it described as a “military show trial.”

“Both men have always maintained that their innocence, and there is no physical evidence against them,” Reprieve said in a statement. “The two witnesses who testified against them were awarded large sums of money in compensation and have changed their stories countless times.”

Reprieve said the two were first sentenced to death in September of last year.

In April a judge at the high military court in the capital of Kinshasa ruled that a military court in Kisangani did not follow proper procedures when it convicted the two men last year. Two judges had been sent from the capital to Kisangani for the new case.

On Thursday the judge that sentenced the men also ruled that the two former Norwegian soldiers will jointly pay with the Norwegian government $65 million, a reduced amount from the initial fine imposed in the original September ruling. The court clerk said $3 million will go to the widow of the murdered driver, and $1.5 million to the parents of the driver.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kjetil Elsebutangen said Norway will once again communicate to Congolese authorities its position on the death penalty, most likely in a diplomatic note to Kinshasa.

“Norway is against the death penalty in principle and in all its forms,” Elsebutangen said. “It’s time for us now to reiterate our position and also remind the Congolese authorities of their responsibility for the health and security of the two Norwegian citizens that are their prisoners.”

Elsebutangen said Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere still has faith in the guarantee received in December from his Congolese counterpart, Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, that French and Moland will not be put to death because Congo has in place a moratorium on executions. No one in Congo has been executed since 2001, when the government set the moratorium.

Norway has broached the idea of transferring the men to Norway to serve a prison sentence and has received “positive signs” from top government officials in the Congo, Elsebutangen said.

“This is not a final judgment because both parties have a right to appeal it,” he said. “We have signaled that once a judgment is final, we are willing and prepared to go into talks and negotations on transferring these two men to Norway to serve their sentence here. But this cannot start until we have a judgment that is final.”

Associated Press writer Raphael G. Satter in London and Ian MacDougall in Oslo, Norway contributed to this report.

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