KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congo’s military high court has overturned the death sentence handed down to two Norwegians convicted of murder, espionage and conspiracy last year after their driver was found dead in the jungle.
Both Joshua French, who also holds British citizenship, and Tjostolv Moland had previously served in Norway’s military but Oslo has denied they were in active service when the incident occurred last May near the town of Kisangani.
“The higher military court accepts the request of the defendants, annuls the decision in all its aspects and sends the case back to the military court of Province Orientale,” said Colonel Bassolo Yeliambela, the lead judge in the case.
Yeliambela said the top military court in Kinshasa wanted new judges in the court in Kisangani, where the trial originally took place, to reassess the case.
The Kisangani court in December upheld the death penalty against the Norwegians and ordered the Oslo government to pay more than $500 million in damages.
Norway had rejected the spying charges and said it would do all it could via diplomatic channels to block any execution.
“We’re happy that the judges considered the arguments we developed before them and annulled the decision by the Kisangani military court, which was riddled with errors never seen in the history of mankind,” said Andre Kibambe, Moland’s lawyer.
Congolese lawyers had said that it would have been unlikely for the pair to be executed because, while human rights abuses are rampant in Congo, President Joseph Kabila has commuted death sentences since 2003.
Nonetheless, the trial grabbed the attention of the media and fuelled speculation over what the pair were doing in a part of Congo that has suffered years of conflict but is starting to entice investors looking to tap into untouched oil reserves.