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British, Moroccan citizens sentenced to death in Kremlin-backed show trial

KYIV — Kremlin-controlled authorities have sentenced to death two British citizens and a Moroccan national who all served in Ukraine’s military after a three-day show trial in which no evidence in their favor was presented. 

British citizens Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, and Moroccan national Saadoun Brahim, were convicted of being foreign mercenaries and partaking in “terrorist” activities when captured by Russian forces — the Brits were captured in the southeastern city of Mariupol in April while Brahim was captured in March in Volnovakha, south of Donetsk. 

A court sentenced them in the self-proclaimed “People’s Republic” of Donetsk, a territory of eastern Ukraine that Russia controls and is unrecognized by the international community. They have one month to appeal and possibly receive a reduced sentence, the court said. Otherwise, they face death by firing squad.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss wrote on Twitter: “I utterly condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine. They are prisoners of war. This is a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy. My thoughts are with the families. We continue to do everything we can to support them.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously urged the Russian government to treat his countrymen “humanely and compassionately.”

The Moroccan foreign ministry has not commented on Brahim’s case.

Aslin, 28, Pinner, 48, and Brahim, 21, were active-duty troops serving regular contracts with the Ukrainian military; Aslin had recently re-upped his contract for a fourth year and had deep ties to the country. As regular soldiers, the men should be protected by the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war.

Russia and its proxy forces in Donetsk are believed to be using the cases of Aslin and Pinner to secure the release of Russian soldiers held prisoner by Ukraine and convicted in Kyiv. Russian proxy authorities in Donetsk had pushed for the U.K. and Ukraine in the weeks ahead of the trial to negotiate a prisoner swap with Aslin and Pinner for Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politician who is in Kyiv’s custody and charged with treason.

Aslin and Pinner were taken captive after months of unrelenting fighting in Maripol, where Ukrainian troops were surrounded by Russian forces that destroyed the strategic port city that was once home to nearly 500,000 people. 

In the lead-up to the show trial, Russian state media and pro-Kremlin propagandists published interrogation videos of the men, who were forced to confess under duress to their alleged crimes. 

The trial, which began Tuesday, was held behind closed doors. The men were not allowed to present any evidence to counter the accusations or defend themselves. 

A video of the verdict and sentencing released Thursday by Russia’s Defense Ministry TV channel showed the men wearing dingy clothing in a courtroom cage. Off-camera, a person translated the court’s decision. Showing no emotion, the men took turns standing to acknowledge that they understood what had transpired. 

The Donetsk court appeared to mimic the legitimate trials of Russian servicemen in Kyiv, where three men have been convicted for crimes related to Vladimir Putin’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

In May, Vadim Shishimarin, 21, was sentenced to life in prison for killing a 62-year-old civilian in the northeastern region of Sumy; Alexander Bobikin and Alexander Ivanov were each sentenced to more than 11 years for shelling civilian areas of the northeastern Kharkiv region from Russia, in violation of the laws and customs of war. 

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