The mother of a former British soldier on Death Row in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has made a desperate plea to the British Government to help repatriate her son.
Kari Hilde French, the 64-year-old mother of Joshua French, told The Independent her son is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and is imprisoned in a dirty prison corridor with no access to the medication he needs. “[The Government must] get him out, absolutely as quick as possible,” she said, speaking from the DRC. “Every day he stays in the prison, it’s a hazard to his health and to his life.”
Her 31-year-old son, a joint UK-Norwegian national, was sentenced to death following what has been described as a “deeply flawed” trial in 2009. According to the legal charity Reprieve, Mr French and his friend Tjostolv Moland were ambushed while resting with their driver Abedi Kasongo, who was subsequently killed.
Witnesses provided conflicting testimonies, according to the charity, who said there was a “total lack of any physical evidence against them”. The pair were convicted of espionage and murder and handed death sentences, despite both maintaining their innocence. They were convicted for a second time in June 2010 following a military retrial dubbed a “farce” by campaigners.
Last week Mr French was convicted of murdering Mr Moland, with whom he had been sharing a cell, despite a post-mortem examination reportedly pointing to suicide. Reprieve, which has written to David Cameron for help, said Mr French had been suffering from “severe mental illness throughout the trial”. He has suffered delusional episodes, refusing to eat or drink and sleeping for only a few hours at a time, according to the charity. He has reportedly self-harmed on multiple occasions, once resulting in surgery.
Mrs French, who has been in the DRC since December, said her son was suffering. “He is sleeping in a corridor now. He has no mosquito net and no fan, despite the heat,” she said. “He has no private life and no toilet facilities at night. Most of his things have been taken away from him, or stolen. His health, both physically and mentally, is not very good.”
She added that the latest trial had taken a severe toll on him. “We only had three minutes together [after the verdict]. I said it was terrible and he replied: ‘Yes, mummy, but this is what I expected.’”
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “Joshua’s trial and conviction has been a sham from start to finish. He is extremely mentally ill and should never have been put on trial, in a military court, for a tragic death that was proven by experts to be a suicide.
“Joshua desperately needs medical and psychological help and the British Government must do everything they can to ensure that he gets it.”
A Foreign & Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said it was “very concerned about Mr French’s welfare” and will “continue to provide full consular assistance”.