Norwegians held in Congo lose appeal

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A military appeals court in the Democratic Republic of Congo Thursday upheld a lower court’s convictions of two young Norwegian men charged with murder, spying and a long list of other offenses. Both men were sentenced to death once again, and now plan an appeal to Congo’s highest court.

Tjostolv Moland, age 28, and Joshua French, age 27, were led into the courtroom in Kisangani Thursday morning, but it took hours before their sentences were finally read off by the judges.

The judges issued new convictions identical to those issued by a lower court earlier this autumn. Defense counsel Marius Dietrichson told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he fears for the safety of Moland and French but wasn’t surprised by the verdicts.

He said the new death sentences, and orders to pay huge sums in compensation, will now be appealed to the country’s highest court in the capital of Kinshasa, where they hope to have a better chance. Dietrichson said, however, that he’d heard reports that the supreme court judges may instead travel to Kisangani and hear the Norwegians’ case there.

Dietrichson expected their final appeal will come up before the high court in January or February.

Both men were declared guilty of murder, attempted murder, robbery, spying and attempts to form a criminal organization, after their taxi driver was found murdered in May. They’ve been held in a military prison in Kisangani ever since.

The military tribunal believes Moland shot the driver, according to Dagbladet.no.

The appeals court, however, turned down compensation claims from the murdered driver’s widow, uncle, assistant, another passenger in the taxi and the slain driver’s labour union.

The government’s claim against Norway for hundreds of millions of US dollars, based on charges that Moland and French were in Congo to spy for Norway, was upheld. Norwegian authorities have repeatedly rejected the compensation claim, saying that the two men were not in Congo on behalf of the Norwegian state.