KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — The trial of a British-Norwegian citizen accused of killing his Norwegian cellmate last year while they both served time for murder has formally begun, Congolese officials said Tuesday.
Joshua French, who formerly served in the U.K. parachute regiment, stands accused of strangling Tjostolv Moland to death last August after subduing him with a chemical substance, Capt. Serge Kabondo said during a military tribunal hearing.
French and Moland were found guilty in 2009 of murdering their driver and attempting to murder a witness. They were sentenced to death. The court in the northeastern city of Kisangani also convicted them of spying for Norway because they were carrying military ID cards at the time. They have denied the charges and the Norwegian government has denied that the men were spies.
An autopsy carried out after Moland's August death by Congolese and Norwegian officials concluded that Moland hanged himself. However, a Congolese official announced last month that evidence had emerged implicating French in Moland's killing, and that French would face a second murder charge.
French's lawyer has dismissed the allegation as baseless. The British charity organization Reprieve on Monday urged the U.K. government to intervene in the case. "The government has already tallied too long," said Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve's death penalty team. "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."
Norway has sent a special envoy to monitor the case. Tuesday's hearing was also attended by French's mother, Kari Hilde, who has also called for U.K. government action. "Joshua has already lost his best friend and nearly five years of his life," Hilde said in a statement Monday. "Now he's being falsely accused of murder. How much more will he have to endure before the British government takes serious action?"
The next steps in the trial have been delayed until Friday so that the court can locate the necessary translators. __ Associated Press writer Robbie Corey-Boulet contributed reporting from Dakar, Senegal.