Joshua French, the former British-Norwegian soldier who’s been serving both death and life sentences for the murders of a Congolese taxi driver and his former business partner Tjostolv Moland, has been pardoned by the justice minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. French’s mother can claim a major share of the victory in getting her son released after nearly eight years of prison in difficult circumstances.
“Joshua French is being pardoned out of consideration for his mother,” Congo’s Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday. Mwamba stressed that French, who has languished in Congolese jails since May 2009, is now “a free man” and won’t be sent home to Norway to carry out the remainder of his prison sentences in a Norwegian jail.
Two murder convictions
The Norwegian government had been trying for years to get both French and Moland transferred to prisons in Norway, to no avail. Moland was found dead in 2013 in the cell he shared with French. Congolese authorities initially concluded that he had committed suicide but later charged and convicted French with his murder.
That left French alone and serving prison terms for two murders. His Norwegian mother, Kari Hilde Hodne French, ultimately moved from Norway to Kinshasa in Congo to be closer to him and care for him, especially when he became ill and undernourished.
Her perserverance in living under difficult conditions herself and working tirelessly to get her son released apparently made an impression. The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, went along with Mwamba’s call to free him.
NRK reported Monday that various legal procedures loomed before Kabila would sign the pardon. That was expected anytime, though, between one week from now to a few more months.
Serious multiple charges
The drama for French and Moland began on May 5, 2009, when the driver of a car they’d hired in Congo was found murdered. The two young men had met as soldiers in Norway’s elite division known as the Telemark Battalion and Moland was running a security agency in Uganda at the time.
French had traveled to Uganda to help Moland and both young men crossed the border into Congo. They were arrested separately a few days after their Congolese driver was found dead. Both denied having anything to do with the death but they were charged with spying, illegal possession of firearms, attempted murder, murder, armed robbery and for allegedly creating a criminal organization. Both were convicted by a military court in Kisangani and sentenced to death but only Moland was actually convicted for the driver’s murder.
They did not appeal on the hopes they would be transferred to a Norwegian prison. Moland, age 32, was found dead in their cell in Kinshasa in August 2013, leaving French with a second life-sentence after being convicted of murdering Moland as well.
By January 2015, French was said to be suffering from malaria, while efforts continued by Norway’s foreign ministry to secure his transfer to Norway. His mother had already moved to Congo and visited her son in prison every day.
She declined comment on her son’s impending release. Foreign Minister Børge Brende sent out a message on social media Monday that there were “positive signals” from Congo’s justice minister and that his ministry would continue its work. He still called the case “difficult,” though, and wrote that it would not be resolved “until Joshua French is out of Congo.”