One of the two young Norwegian men who’ve been languishing in a prison in the Democratic Republic of Congo for allegedly murdering their taxi driver in 2009 was found dead in his cell on Sunday. Norwegian foreign ministry officials have been trying to secure the pardon or extradition of both men for the past four years, to no avail.
The death of Tjostolv Moland, age 32 and originally from the small town of Vegårdshei in Aust-Agder County, was confirmed by his lawyer Han Marius Graasvold, who said that circumstances around his death were unclear. Moland reportedly had suffered from malaria and depression, and had gone on a hunger strike in 2011, but the cause of death was unknown Sunday night.
Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said at a press conference Sunday evening that the ministry has been in contact with authorities in Congo and requested their cooperation in arranging for Moland’s body to be sent home to Norway. Eide said the Norwegian government is also still actively trying to secure the extradition or pardon of Moland’s fellow Norwegian prisoner, Joshua French.
Both men had been elite soldiers in the Norwegian military and were found with invalid military IDs when they were arrested in the spring of 2009. Their reasons for being in Congo have been a source of intrigue, but both young men claimed they were on a business trip from their base in Uganda where they reportedly ran a security guard service. Because of their military IDs, the Congolese police also charged them with spying in addition to murdering their driver. Photos used as evidence in their trial showed a smiling Moland allegedly washing blood off the seat of the vehicle they’d used, and posing with weapons.
They have been confined mostly in a military prison in Kinshasa, also after being convicted and sentenced to death. Eide said that a representative for the Norwegian foreign ministry traveled immediately to the prison after receiving word of Moland’s death.
“We will be exerting as much pressure as possible on the Congolese authorities,” Eide told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), adding that he and his colleagues have devoted enormous resources to the Moland-French case since it erupted four years ago. He has had direct contact with Congo’s president, as has his predecessor Jonas Gahr Støre, but the Congolese officials have said it was too politically difficult for them to extradite or pardon either man.
Both have thus continued to languish in the Congo prison under extremely difficult conditions. Graasvold, the lawyer for Moland, told NRK that a top priority now is to take care of Joshua French and try to secure his release along with that of Moland’s body. Moland’s father continued to criticize Norwegian government officials for not doing even more to secure his son’s release. Eide responded that many Norwegian citizens are held in foreign prisons, and that the government’s involvement in the French-Moland case was without parallel.