Two Brits and a Moroccan who fought against Russians in Ukraine have been sentenced to die. A court in Russian-controlled Donetsk in east Ukraine delivered the sentence Thursday after what onlookers call a "show trial" meant to mimic war crimes trials against Russian soldiers in areas controlled by Ukraine, reports the Guardian. Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, of the UK, were convicted of terrorism, forcible seizure of power, and other crimes, alongside Saaudun Brahim of Morocco. Though they were also convicted of "being a mercenary," per the Guardian, Aslin and Pinner claim to be long-serving members of the Ukrainian military. Both have lived in Ukraine since 2018, their families say, per the AP.
As prisoners of war, they should be entitled to combatant immunity under the Geneva Conventions, says a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, adding the government is "obviously deeply concerned." British Foreign Secretary Luz Truss calls the sentencing a "sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy." Aslin's family argues Russia also violated the Geneva Conventions in sharing a video of Aslin "speaking under duress and having clearly suffered physical injuries," per the Guardian. "All the defendants, without exception, pleaded guilty to all charges," judge Alexander Nikulin announced at the conclusion of the trial, largely carried out in secret, reports Reuters.
Russian state media says the men are not entitled to the same protection as other POWs because they are mercenaries. Pinner and Aslin, who surrendered in Mariupol in mid-April, and Brahim, who surrendered in Volnovakha in mid-March, had been "held in a cage with black bars, guarded by soldiers with their faces covered and wearing arm-bands with the pro-war Z-logo," Reuters reports, citing footage published by the Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news agency. They are now to face a firing squad, RIA Novosti reported, per the AP. However, the three men could instead receive a 25-year prison sentence on appeal. They have a month to get the process started. Andrew Hill, another British fighter captured by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, still awaits trial, the AP reports. (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)