Norway protests death sentences

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Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was on the phone to his counterpart in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday, expressing Norway’s strong opposition to death penalties in general and now in the case of those handed out in Congo to two Norwegian men convicted on charges including murder.

Tjostolv Moland, age 28 from Aust-Agder, and Joshua French, age 27 from Vestfold, were convicted of murder, attempted murder, spying, armed robbery and illegal possession of deadly weapons. All the convictions carried the death penalty, and the men were also ordered, along with the Norwegian state, to pay USD 60 million in damages.

It’s only the second time in more than 60 years that Norwegian citizens have been sentenced to death, either at home or abroad, notes newspaper Aftenposten .

An appeal has been filed and Støre said he received additional assurances from the Congolese government that the men won’t be executed. Rather, it’s expected that the death penalties will ultimately be replaced by life-time prison terms.Støre told Congo’s foreign minister that Norway takes the strongest possible exception to the death penalties, and that the Norwegian government would hold the Congolese government responsible for the personal security of the two men, arrested last May after the driver of a car they’d hired was found murdered.

They’ve been held in a military prison in Kisangani ever since, and any subsequent appeals trials will also take place in military courts, first in Kisangani again and ultimately in the capital of Kinshasa. Both men expressed a desire to get their case heard in Kinshasa, where they feel they’ll have a better chance of either acquittal or milder sentences.

Knut Moland, father of the man convicted of actually murdering the men’s driver, urged the Norwegian government to do more than it has already on behalf of the two men, and even “to get them out” of Congo. Støre said he “can’t get them out now,” but noted that Norwegian authorities are trying to arrange for the men to serve whatever sentences they’re ultimately handed back home in Norway.

Meanwhile, the two former Norwegian soldiers face an immediate future in the poor conditions of a Congolese prison. Tjostolv Moland told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he is concerned about their safety, fearing the level of public hostility towards them in Kinsangani “could escalate.” Both he and French, who allegedly were in Congo to find clients for a private security firm they founded in Uganda, have repeatedly denied the charges against them.