Two Britons and a Moroccan who were captured while fighting for Ukraine have been sentenced to death by a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, one of Russia’s proxies in eastern Ukraine.
The court found the three men – Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun – guilty of “mercenary activities and committing actions aimed at seizing power and overthrowing the constitutional order of the DPR,” the Interfax news agency quoted a court official as saying.
The three men were captured while fighting for Ukraine against Russia and Russian-backed forces after Russia invaded on February 24.
Their lawyer said they would appeal against the decision.
The United Kingdom slammed the court’s decision as a “sham judgment”.
“I utterly condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Twitter.
“They are prisoners of war. This is a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said that, under the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war were entitled to combatant immunity and they should not be prosecuted for participation in hostilities.
Robert Jenrick, the member of parliament for the district where Aslin’s family live, said the proceedings were akin to a “Soviet-era show trial”.
During the proceedings, the three men were held in a cage with black bars, guarded by soldiers with their faces covered and wearing arm-bands with the pro-Russian “Z” symbol, before being asked to stand while the verdict was read to them, a video from the courtroom published by the RIA Novosti news agency showed.
The hasty trial was held largely behind closed doors.
Less than 24 hours before the verdict was handed down, Mr Pinner and Mr Saadoun had pleaded guilty to actions aimed at the violent seizure of power, a video shared from the court by the RIA Novosti news agency showed.
Mr Aslin appeared to have pleaded guilty to a lesser charge involving weapons and explosives.
“The evidence presented by the prosecution in this case allowed the court to pass a guilty verdict, not to mention the fact that all the defendants, without exception, pleaded guilty to all charges,” judge Alexander Nikulin told reporters at the court after handing down the verdict.
“When passing the verdict, the court was guided not only by the prescribed norms and rules but also by the most important, unshakable principle of justice.
“It was that which made it possible to take this complex and difficult decision to apply an exceptional measure of punishment in the form of the death penalty.”
British citizens Mr Aslin, 28, and Mr Pinner, 48, were captured by the Russian-backed forces in Mariupol in April during a bitter fight for control of the city.
Their families say they have both lived in Ukraine since 2018.
Moroccan Mr Saadoun surrendered in March while fighting in a small town between Mariupol and the regional capital of Donetsk.
Morocco’s authorities have not commented on the case since his capture.
Ukraine also condemned the court ruling as having no authority and said the fighters were members of the Ukrainian armed forces and thus subject to Geneva Convention protections.