/ 8 September 2009

DRC court sentences two Norwegians to death

A military court in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) sentenced two Norwegians to death on Tuesday and ordered them and their government to pay more than $60-million in damages after the pair were convicted of murder in the central African nation.

The Norwegians, Joshua French (27) and Tjostolv Moland (28), had been charged with murder, espionage and arms smuggling after their driver was found dead in May this year with a gunshot wound to his head near the city of Kisangani, in DRC’s east.

”The court declares that all crimes are established in fact and in law … and sentences Tjostolv Moland to the death penalty … and Joshua French to the death penalty,” an unnamed officer told a packed courthouse.

The court also ruled that Norway and the two men will have to pay the Congolese state $60-million, on top of tens of thousands of dollars in compensation to members of the driver’s family. The ruling was met with cheers in the courthouse.

Ahead of the ruling, the accused and their lawyers said they would appeal against any conviction.

Captain Claude Disimo, chairperson of the military court in Kisangani, had earlier dismissed the defence’s arguments, saying that Moland had fired the shot that had killed the driver and the two were spies who were a threat to the DRC.

”[They] are active military officers as proved by their military cards, valid until 2016 and 2017. In that respect, they are de facto intelligence agents for their country,” he added.

The Norwegians had previously served in Oslo’s armed forces. Norwegian diplomats say contacts between the accused and their country’s military or any other official organisation were discontinued in 2007.

It is not clear what the two accused were doing in the DRC’s east, which is still mired in conflict but is attracting interest from investors due to oil discoveries under Lake Albert, on the border between the DRC and Uganda.

Ex-soldiers are frequently taken on by private security companies, but there are many questions over who the two were working for. — Reuters