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Congo Court Finds Briton Guilty of Killing Friend

20/02/2014 14:05 GMT | Updated 21/04/2014 10:59 BST

A joint British-Norwegian citizen was found guilty of killing his friend and cellmate in the Democratic Republic of Congo even though there was expert evidence to suggest he was innocent.

Joshua French, 31, received a life sentence from the court in Congo for the death of Tjostolv Moland in their prison cell in August last year. Norwegian police investigated Moland's death alongside their Congolese colleagues. The joint conclusion was that the death was not caused by any criminal act. Moland had committed suicide.

"It's very difficult to understand how they came to this decision with the very thorough Norwegian autopsy report," French's lawyer, Hans Marius Graasvold, said in a telephone interview from Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, on February 19. "It's a lot to take in at the moment."

French, who served in the British army, was also fined 50,000 Congolese francs.

French and Moland were imprisoned together after they were sentenced to death in 2009. Their trial followed the murder of their driver, Abedi Kasongo. Both men maintained they were innocent of involvement in the death.

French's health is deteriorating, according to his lawyer. There is a deadline for an appeal in five days, though French may not be strong enough to face another trial, Graasvold said.

"Mr. French has been getting severely ill. His progression has been very, very bad over the last six weeks," Graasvold said. "He's in dire need of medical assistance."

Graasvold said the Norwegian and British governments were doing everything they could to assist Mr. French. He had previously expressed concern that the British government wasn't doing enough.

"We need a diplomatic and political solution," Graasvold said. "I have made it clear to the Congolese authorities that it is their responsibility to make sure he has something to eat, something to drink and that he basically survives."

Maya Foa, a director at London-based Reprieve, an organisation that provides legal support to prisoners around the world, said: "Life imprisonment in the DRC for someone with such severe mental ill health as Joshua is effectively a death sentence. He is acutely psychotic and should never have been put on trial - his best friend's death was proven to be suicide. The UK government must do everything they can to get him transferred to a hospital where he can receive the medical attention he so desperately needs."