DRC accused 'extremely unwell'

This Is Lancashire: A man accused of killing his cellmate in the Democratic Republic of Congo is 'very ill', according to the charity Reprieve A man accused of killing his cellmate in the Democratic Republic of Congo is 'very ill', according to the charity Reprieve

A former British soldier already on death row in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who faces a fresh trial for the alleged murder of his cellmate and best friend is "extremely unwell", a legal charity has said.

Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland were sentenced to death in 2009 after being found guilty of espionage and murder, although both men maintained their innocence.

They were convicted for a second time for the same offences in June 2010 following a military retrial branded a ''farce'' by campaigners.

However, French, who served in the Parachute Regiment, now faces a fresh murder charge after Mr Moland was found dead in the prison cell they shared on August 18 last year, despite an initial investigation which found Mr Moland killed himself.

Mr French was due to stand trial tomorrow after a short delay but it has emerged the former soldier was admitted to hospital yesterday for an unspecified medical complaint. He was returned to prison in the DRC capital Kinshasa last night but still requires "urgent treatment".

Maya Foa, director of legal charity Reprieve's death penalty team, said: "Joshua French was hospitalised on Wednesday, and despite having been returned to prison last night, remains extremely unwell.

"Friday's hearing should be postponed to allow him to get the urgent treatment he needs, and we hope that the British Government will make strong representations to this effect."

Charges were read out to Mr French at a hearing held in the prison on Tuesday, but the trial was put back provisionally to Friday as no interpreter was available.

Reprieve has called on the British Government, in letters to Prime Minister David Cameron, to intervene to prevent the trial. The charity wants to have the proceedings transferred to a civilian court, as it is set to be held in a military court, in violation of the DRC's constitution and international law.

It is understood that discussions had been taking place to transfer Mr French to a prison in Norway but the fresh proceedings have thrown this into jeopardy.

Mr French's mother, Kari Hilde, said yesterday: "Joshua has already lost his best friend and nearly five years of his life. Now he's being falsely accused of murder. How much more will he have to endure before the British Government takes serious action?"

Reprieve said a post-mortem examination conducted jointly by Congolese Police and the Norwegian police agency Kripos confirmed that Mr Moland committed suicide.

Mr Moland's father has written to the Congolese authorities asking for the charges against Mr French to be dropped, but the request has not been answered.

Mr French and Mr Moland were convicted of murdering Abedi Kasongo, who had been hired to drive the two former soldiers after their motorbike broke down in April 2009. The 47-year-old driver was shot in the head 70 miles east of Kisangani.

Both men denied responsibility, claiming unknown gunmen ambushed them in the middle of a dense rainforest.

Witnesses provided conflicting testimonies to the trial, which lacked physical evidence, Reprieve said.

It was also claimed that Mr French was beaten and subjected to a mock execution before being forced to sign a confession.

Prosecutors told the courts that Mr Moland wrote a letter confessing he was a spy and was responsible for killing Mr Kasongo, but the letter has never been given to his defence team.

At the retrial, both defendants were forced to stand for more than six hours in temperatures higher than 40C (104F), it was claimed.

Mr French, who spent his childhood in Margate, Kent, trained as a British paratrooper before serving in the Norwegian army, where he met Mr Moland.

Both men left the forces in 2007 and worked as security guards in a number of locations.

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