Doomed Norwegians may drop appeal

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Two young Norwegian men imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo are considering dropping appeals of death sentences they were handed last month. Now they reportedly only want to seek a means of being returned to Norway, either to undergo an appeals trial in their homeland or remain imprisoned.

Tjostolv Moland, age 28 from Aust-Agder (hand-cuffed man pictured at right during their murder trial) , and Joshua French, age 27 from Vestfold, were sentenced to death by a Congolese military court earlier this month after being found guilty of murder, attempted murder, spying, armed robbery and illegal possession of deadly weapons. The men were also ordered, along with the Norwegian state, to pay USD 60 million in damages after the driver of a taxi they’d hired was found dead in May.

Moland and French remain imprisoned in a military jail in Kisangani, in eastern Congo. An appeals trial would have been held there as well, while a final appeal to Congo’s highest court would have been heard in Congo’s capital of Kinshasa.The Norwegian government has tried to stay out of the case, saying it’s not involved since the two former soldiers were traveling on their own in Congo at the time of their arrest. The foreign ministry, however, is obligated to secure the rights of Norwegians abroad and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has made phone calls to his counterpart in Congo on the men’s behalf.

Støre said he received assurances from the Congolese government that the men won’t actually be executed and rather would likely be given life-time prison terms if they were still found guilty at the end of an appeals process. It’s been reported that the men, aided by Norwegian officials, would then seek to serve the prison terms at home in Norway.

Radio station P4 reported Tuesday, however, that the men now may change their legal strategy and will seek immediate transfer to Norway. Anonymous donors reportedly have put up the money to hire well-known attorney Morten Furuholmen, who believes it’s a “waste of time” to go through the Congolese appeals process.

Furuholmen reportedly will rather work to find “a diplomatic solution” and get the men transferred to Norway.

Foreign ministry officials apparently were caught by surprise and told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Tuseday morning that they were not involved in any decision to drop the men’s appeals. Other Norwegian legal experts cautioned that it was risky to drop the appeal, because the Congolese may see it as acceptance of their death sentences.

NRK repeatedly reported that the men were counting on being able to serve their sentences in a Norwegian prison. Norway has no death penalty, however, and its harshest sentence is generally limited to 21 years in prison. It remains unclear how the men could serve even a life sentence in Norway, and thus satisfy the terms of their Congolese sentences.