Two British citizens and a Moroccan were sentenced to death Thursday for fighting on Ukraine's side, in a punishment handed down by the country's pro-Moscow rebels.
The proceedings against the three captured fighters were denounced by Ukraine and the West as a sham and a violation of the rules of war.
A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in Ukraine found the three fighters guilty of seeking the violent overthrow of power, an offense punishable by death in the unrecognized eastern republic. The men were also convicted of mercenary activities and terrorism.
Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the defendants - identified as Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Brahim Saadoun - will face a firing squad. They have a month to appeal.
The separatist side argued that the three were "mercenaries" not entitled to the usual protections accorded prisoners of war. They are the first foreign fighters sentenced by Ukraine’s Russian-backed rebels.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko condemned the proceedings as legally invalid, saying, "Such show trials put the interests of propaganda above the law and morality." He said that all foreign citizens fighting as part of Ukraine’s armed forces should be considered Ukrainian military personnel and protected as such.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that the foreigners had committed crimes on the territory of the self-proclaimed state trying to break away from Ukraine.
Lavrov said: "At the moment, the trials you mentioned are being held on the basis of the legislation of the Donetsk People's Republic, because the crimes in question were committed on the DPR's territory."
British Foreign Secretary Luz Truss pronounced the sentencing a "sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy." Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman Jamie Davies said that under the Geneva Conventions, POWs are entitled to immunity as combatants.
Saadoun's father, Taher Saadoun, told the Moroccan online Arab-language newspaper Madar 21 that his son is not a mercenary and that he holds Ukrainian citizenship.
Aslin’s and Pinner’s families have said that the two men were long-serving members of the Ukrainian military. Both are said to have lived in Ukraine since 2018.
The three men fought alongside Ukrainian troops before Pinner and Aslin surrendered to pro-Russian forces in the southern port of Mariupol in mid-April and Saadoun was captured in mid-March in the eastern city of Volnovakha.
Another British fighter taken prisoner by the pro-Russian forces, Andrew Hill, is awaiting trial.
The Russian military has argued that foreign mercenaries fighting on Ukraine’s side are not combatants and should expect long prison terms, at best, if captured.