UK

British Ex-Soldier Faces Death Penalty For Alleged 'Murder' Of Cellmate In Democratic Republic Of Congo

06/01/2014 15:45 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 13:17 GMT

A British soldier is facing possible execution in the Democratic Republic of Congo, charged over the death of his cellmate, a death that independent human rights experts have concluded was a suicide.

Joshua French, who has dual Norwegian-British citizenship trained as a paratrooper in the British Army, has been held in the DRC since being sentenced to death in 2009.

He was convicted, together with Tjostolv Moland, of murdering their driver by gunshot and of espionage for Norway.

joshua french drc

Joshua French (R) with his co-defendant Tjostolv Moland, who he is accused of murdering

Both men always maintained their innocence, with human rights charity Reprieve calling it "a flawed trial which saw witnesses providing conflicting testimonies and a total lack of any physical evidence against them".

Moland was found dead in his cell in August 2013, and an autopsy conducted jointly by DRC police and the Norwegian police agency Kripos concluded he had committed suicide.

French is now facing trial for Moland's murder, starting Tuesday at a military court.

French's mother, Kari Hilde said in a statement released through her son's lawyers: "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 has called on the British Government to intervene or, at very least, have it transferred to a civilian court.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty team said: "The government has already tallied too long. These are sham charges and the Prime Minister needs to intervene without delay to protect the rights of British citizen, Joshua French.

"If the trial goes ahead in a military court, Joshua may well be given a death sentence, and all hopes of him leaving the prison alive will be dashed.”

French, who spent his childhood in Margate, Kent, met Moland when both served with the Norwegian army - after French's time in the British military. Both men left the forces in 2007 and worked as security guards in a number of international locations.