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August 19, 2013

Former Norwegian Soldier Dies in Congo Jail

by Nick Long

A Norwegian ex-soldier who was jailed in the Democratic Republic of Congo on murder charges four years ago was found dead in his cell on Sunday.  A Congolese lawyer said in an inteview with VOA that he saw the former soldier, Tjostolv Moland, on Saturday and that he appeared to be in good health.

Thirty-two-year-old Tjostolv Moland and fellow-Norwegian Joshua French, who had also served in the Norwegian army, were arrested in northeastern Congo in 2009 and charged with the murder of a driver they had hired, Abedi Kasongo. A military tribunal found the two guilty of murder, espionage and conspiracy and sentenced them to death. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
 
They appealed the sentence and were retried by different judges, but again found guilty as charged.
 
On Sunday, Moland was found dead in his cell, which he normally shared with French.  It is not clear if they were in the same cell on Saturday or Sunday.  The Congolese authorities have said they are working with the Norwegian consulate to establish how Moland died.

Congolese lawyer Peter Ngomo told VOA he saw the two Norwegians Saturday, when they were playing football with other prisoners at the Ndolo military prison in Kinshasa.  Moland looked to be in good health, he said.
 
"They were treated quite well in prison and had certain privileges. They were allowed to use telephones, and people from their embassy visited them regularly.  But I heard they often fought each other in jail," said Ngomo.

National network Radio Okapi reports that the DRC’s military prosecutor, Major-General Ponde Isambwa, also said the two prisoners had fought each other several times, but the prison authorities had decided not put them in separate cells.  

Their sentence was controversial. The Norwegian government described it as unacceptable and denied they had been spies. According to Ngomo, their driver may have been murdered because of a disagreement with the two ex-soldiers.

"It was a problem about the vehicle they had hired," he said. "They noticed at a certain point that the driver tried to drive away without them."

Moland’s lawyer Hans Marius Graasvold has told reporters Moland had been ill several times and had been treated for malaria and psychosis.
 
The Norwegian government had been trying to secure Moland and French’s transfer to a jail in Norway.  Norway’s foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, said Sunday full pressure would be applied to clarify the cause of Tjostolv Moland’s death.