Joshua French, the young Norwegian man convicted of murder in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was back in the news this week. Around 300 demonstrators marched on his behalf in Oslo over the weekend, demanding he be brought back to Norway, while his lawyer is now objecting to how the foreign ministry has handled the case.
French was first arrested in Congo in the spring of 2009, along with his friend and business partner at the time, Tjostolv Moland. They were charged and later convicted of murdering their taxi driver, with both men sentenced to death.
Moland was later found dead in the prison cell they shared and French was convicted of his murder, too. Despite lengthy efforts by Norwegian officials to get French extradited back to Norway, and the constant presence of French’s Norwegian mother in the Congo courtrooms and prisons, French has continued to languish in custody. His advocates say his health has deteriorated and that he recently has stopped talking.
His sister Hannah French was joined in the march by former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and actor Per Christian Ellefsen, while appeals went out to Norwegian authorities to work harder to get French home “before it’s too late.” Many claim French has been wrongly charged with crimes he didn’t commit.
Eide ‘pulled off the case’
On Tuesday, his attorney Hans Marius Graasvold criticized the foreign ministry and claimed it had pulled its top envoy, Kai Eide, off the case last spring. Eide, a career diplomat who once served as the UN’s special envoy to Afghanistan, had also tried to secure French’s release or extradition, only to be recalled back to Oslo at the end of March.
“He was pulled off the case, as I understand it,” Graasvold told news bureau NTB on Tuesday.
Not so, according to the foreign ministry, which claimed that the ministry simply had opted for “another strategy” when Eide was appointed as Norway’s new ambassador to Sweden. French’s case has since been handed over to Norway’s ambassador to Egypt and Libya, Tor Wennesland.
NTB reported that Eide was “careful” about explaining how and why he was taken off the case after three months of intense diplomatic efforts in Congo. “It was a decision made by the political leadership (at the foreign ministry) and I have no opinion on that,” Eide told NTB. He said he was sorry French wasn’t freed and that his case still bothers him.
French’s mother has moved to Kinshasa, where her son is incarcerated, visits him daily and provides his food. He was briefly allowed to stay in an apartment outside the prison, but was sent back to the prison when he was found walking outside the apartment and accused of trying to escape.