Pro-Russian officials have sentenced to death two British men and a Moroccan national captured while fighting in the Ukrainian army in Mariupol, Russian state media has said.
A court in Russian-controlled east Ukraine convicted Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner after a days-long process that observers have called a “show trial” on “trumped-up charges” meant to imitate war crimes trials against Russian soldiers in Kyiv.
Aslin, 28, from Newark, and Pinner, 48, from Watford, were convicted by the court in Russian-controlled territory in Donetsk alongside Saaudun Brahim on charges of “terrorism”.
Both Britons have said they were serving in the Ukrainian marines, making them active-duty soldiers who should be protected by the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war. However, the Russian state media has portrayed the men as mercenaries, and the court has convicted them on the charge of “being a mercenary”.
On Wednesday, the state-run news agency RIA Novosti shared footage of the men pleading “guilty” to the charges against them, which also included terrorism, committing a crime as part of a criminal group, and forcible seizure of power or forcible retention of power.
Russia is also believed to be using the process to put pressure on the UK and may seek a prisoner exchange for Russian soldiers convicted of murder and other war crimes during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There is a moratorium on the death penalty in Russia, but not in the territory it occupies in eastern Ukraine.
In a statement earlier this week, Aslin’s family said he had served in the Ukrainian marines for nearly four years and “is not, contrary to the Kremlin’s propaganda, a volunteer, a mercenary, or a spy”.
The family also accused Russia of violating the Geneva conventions by releasing video of Aslin “speaking under duress and having clearly suffered physical injuries”.
His MP Robert Jenrick told BBC Radio 4 that the trial was “a completely outrageous breach of international law and it should be condemned”.
“The Russian authorities have chosen to make an example out of these two British nationals and it is, I think, completely shameful.” He said he hoped that a prisoner exchange occurs “in the near future”.