Two young Norwegian men were sentenced to death in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday, convicted of murder, attempted murder and spying. Both men, former Norwegian soldiers, planned an immediate appeal.
Tjostolv Moland (at left in photo) , age 28 from Aust-Agder, and Joshua French (right) , age 27 from Vestfold, were arrested last May after the driver of a car they’d hired was found murdered. The two men had initially fled the scene, claiming later that the driver was killed by armed robbers and that they, too, had feared for their lives.
They have said they later returned to the abandoned car and used it in an attempt to return to Uganda, from which they’d travelled to Congo. They were ultimately seized, however, and police claim they found photos of Moland smiling while cleaning blood out of the car.
They’ve been held in a military prison in Kisangani ever since, because they were carrying Norwegian military identification cards even though they reportedly left Norwegian military service in late 2007. That ultimately led to the spying charges against them.Death sentences plus damage claim
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Tuesday afternoon that a military tribunal in Kisangani has now convicted Moland of murder, French of attempted murder, and both men of spying. NRK reported that French’s conviction comes after two fellow passengers in the car claimed he had tried to strangle them after Moland allegedly killed the driver.
Both men were sentenced to death and the military court also demanded that French, Moland and the Norwegian government pay USD 60 million in damages, which, reports Aftenposten.no, is a symbolic sum representing one US dollar for every Congolese citizen.
Both French and Moland have repeatedly denied the charges against them and refused to testify during the latter portion of their trial, claiming they couldn’t understand all the proceedings and that the trial was subject to corruption because they’d received offers of reduced charges in return for money.
Mysterious mission in Congo
It remains unclear what French and Moland were doing in Congo last spring. They initially said they merely were tourists and carried no weapons into the country. Reports later have surfaced that they ran a special security firm in Uganda and had tried to recruit fellow Norwegian soldiers for paid assignments in Africa while still members of Norway’s Telemark Battalion. A business partner in Uganda told newspaper VG on Monday that they had traveled into Congo in order to find new clients for their Kampala-based firm, Special Intervention Group (Uganda) Ltd, which was to offer body-guard, anti-terror and maritime protection services but still awaited a business license.
The men’s families have sought help from the Norwegian government, which has offered some support but contends it is not otherwise involved in the men’s case.
An appeal would be heard at a higher court in Kisangani. A final appeal would be heard at Congo’s highest court in the capital of Kinshasa.