Jun 9, 2022 - World

Russian-backed separatist court sentences foreign fighters captured in Ukraine to death

The flag of the Donetsk People's Republic and Russian flag flying in Mariupol, Ukraine, in May 2022.
The flags of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Russian Empire flying in Mariupol, Ukraine, in May. Photo: Leon Klein/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Two British men and one Moroccan man were sentenced to death by a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic on Thursday for fighting on behalf of Ukraine, according to Russian state media.

Why it matters: The court has not been recognized by the international community. The families of the British men said they were sworn members of Ukraine's military, which would make them prisoners of war, according to the BBC.

Catch up fast: The men, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner from the United Kingdom and Brahim Saadoun from Morocco, were captured by the Russian army in April while serving alongside Ukrainian marines in Mariupol, the Telegraph reports.

  • Aslin and Pinner have lived in Ukraine and have served in the country's military for several years. Saadoun was a student studying in the country, according to the Telegraph.
  • Before receiving the sentence, Pinner and Saadoun allegedly pleaded guilty to actions aimed at the violent seizure of power, while Aslin allegedly pleaded guilty to a lesser charge involving weapons and explosives, Reuters reports.
  • The court ultimately found them guilty of "mercenary activities and committing actions aimed at seizing power and overthrowing the constitutional order of the DPR," according to Reuters.

What they're saying: “This is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law on so many counts," Denis Krivosheev, a deputy director for Amnesty International, said Thursday in a statement.

  • “The three were members of the Ukrainian regular forces and under the Geneva Conventions, as prisoners of war, they are protected from prosecution for taking part in hostilities," Krivosheev added.
  • "The only exception is prosecution for alleged war crimes, in which case there must be sufficient admissible evidence, and fair trial standards must be ensured."
  • "Not only this is not the case in this scenario – they were not tried by an independent, impartial regularly constituted court but by Russian proxies."

The big picture: The U.K. has maintained that Aslin and Pinner, as prisoners of war, are given immunity from summary execution by the Geneva Conventions and should not be prosecuted for taking part in hostilities.

  • Morocco's Foreign Ministry has not commented on Saadoun's trial.

Go deeper ... Zelensky: Fate of eastern Ukraine tied to fighting in Severodonetsk

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Amnesty International.

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