Poor interpretation halts French case

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The trial of Norwegian man Joshua French, accused of murdering his friend and cell mate in a Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) jail, adjourned soon after it began in Kinshasa on Tuesday morning. Poor interpretation between English and French brought the case to a halt until Friday, while a new interpreter is approved by the DRC’s Foreign Ministry.

An interpreter with the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet had been appointed the official court interpreter before the case got underway on Tuesday morning. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported it quickly became apparent he was not up to standard, struggling several times to find the right wording. Interpreters with other Norwegian news outlets ended up calling out the correct English/French translations.

“No development here surprises me,” 31-year-old French said, after the adjournment was called. The court sat for less than half an hour. French’s lawyer asked for the court to find a new interpreter as soon as possible, but the judge decided to postpone the case until Friday.

NRK reported Norway’s Foreign Ministry expressed strong dissatisfaction with the arrangement of appointing an unprepared interpreter on the spot. Its special envoy appointed to the case, Kai Eide, met with dignitaries including DRC President Joseph Kabila on Monday in a bid to get French extradited to Norway.

The charges
French is accused of murdering his friend, fellow Norwegian Tjostolv Moland in their prison cell. The two former soldiers had started a security company in Africa, and were in the DRC when their driver was killed on May 5, 2009. The pair pleaded not guilty, but were convicted of espionage, illegal possession of weapons, attempted murder, armed robbery and forming a criminal organisation. Moland was convicted of murder. Both were sentenced to death by three separate courts.

Moland and French did not appeal the last sentence in a bit to speed up extradition efforts to Norway. They were transferred from a prison in Kisangani to the capital, Kinshasa. Moland was found dead in his cell on August 18, 2013. Initially treated as a suicide, DRC authorities charged French with Moland’s murder on December 9, claiming French drugged and strangled him.

Defense Minister Alexandre Luba Ntambo told Eide that Moland and French fought constantly, reported Dagbladet, and showed Eide photos he claimed documented French’s guilt. Ntambo has political responsibility for the military justice authorities which charged French over the death. Norway’s Kripos criminal investigators found no traces of sleeping pills during Moland’s autopsy.

Film in the works
Meanwhile, a Congolese production company plans to make a documentary on the case. Acclaimed flmmaker Djo Munga has spent two years planning and financing a movie, which he told Norwegian news service NTB will take a different angle than Norwegian journalists have presented.

“Why would someone leave Norway for Congo? What should they do? A guy told me that these young men are from a generation in Norway that has grown up with wealth. Therefore they could do such a thing,” explained Munga. He finds the topic of leaving the safety, security and abundance of Norway and moving to one of the world’s poorest places strange, but inspirational.

Munga wants to interview Moland and French’s mothers, as well as the dead driver’s widow. He told NTB he’s not concerned with dwelling on guilt or Moland’s death, but wants to go deeper into the trial of the two Norwegians and everything that happened after. He also plans to delve into issues of white people’s treatment of Africa and its people.

“The media has been very one sided and unfair to Congo in its coverage of this case,” he said. “So I’ll start this film with showing who the Congolese are and what they care about.” Mumba said the film will be completed in 2015.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate