Page last updated at 14:40 GMT, Saturday, 28 November 2009

DR Congo delays appeal verdict on condemned Briton

Norwegian citizens Tjostolv Moland, left, and Joshua French, right, listen to a judge reading out their sentence in Kisangani, DR Congo, on 8 September 2009
Tjostolv Moland (l) and Joshua French at the trial in Kisangani

A British ex-soldier sentenced to death in the Democratic Republic of Congo for murder must wait longer to find out if his appeal has been successful.

The court said its decision on the appeal, which had been expected on Saturday, would be given on Thursday.

Joshua French, 27, and a Norwegian man, Tjostolv Moland, 28, were convicted of spying and murder by a military tribunal on 8 September.

The pair deny killing their driver and say an unknown gunman ambushed them.

Officials at the military court said on Saturday that the judges had not finished preparing their written verdict.

Legal charity Reprieve has said it expects the death penalty to be upheld.

It has called for the Foreign Secretary David Miliband to "forcefully intervene" and for the Congolese government to replace the "shameful military show trials" with legitimate civilian trials.

The group accused the authorities of using the case as a "cash cow", saying the tribunal made repeated demands for money from the defendants and anyone connected with them.

Reprieve also says witnesses who testified against the pair received $5,000 US (£3,000) in compensation in a country where people earn on average about $3-4 per day.

'De facto intelligence agents'

Mr French was born in Norway to a British father and Norwegian mother, and lived in Margate, Kent, as a child.

He moved back to Norway when his parents divorced, but returned to the UK aged 20 and served in the British Army.

Joshua French
Joshua French grew up in Margate, Kent

The pair met while serving in Norway's elite Telemark Battalion. Both left the Norwegian military in 2007 to work as security guards in Africa and the Middle East.

They deny killing Abedi Kasongo, 47, a driver who was shot in the head 70 miles east of Kisangani in May.

They say they were travelling to DR Congo from Uganda on a motorbike trip. When the motorbike broke down, they hired Mr Kasongo to take them back to Uganda.

Both defendants were carrying Norwegian military identity cards when they were arrested, leading the chairman of the tribunal to call them "de facto intelligence agents for their country".

He also ordered the Norwegian government to pay $60 million US (£36 million) in compensation, a dollar for every Congolese citizen.

The authorities in Oslo have denied the men were involved in espionage for Norway, and have questioned whether the trial was fair.

Map

Reprieve claims that after Mr French was arrested he was tied up, beaten and paraded from village to village where he was ill-treated by both police and civilians.

The organisation also says DR Congo's constitution stipulates that the jurisdiction of the military courts is limited to offences committed by members of the armed forces and the national police.

A Foreign Office spokesman said officials were in touch with the Congolese authorities and had made British opposition to the death penalty clear.

"We understand the DR Congo has signed a moratorium on the death penalty and we hope that remains the case," he said.

"We are offering consular assistance as appropriate."



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