Two Britons and a Moroccan who had fought for the Ukrainian armed forces were sentenced to death Thursday by a court in Russia occupied eastern Ukraine after being accused of being mercenaries, Russia s Interfax reported. The death sentences were the latest ominous step in a trial that has alarmed human rights advocates and Western governments and raised questions about the protections afforded to thousands of foreign-born fighters serving in Ukraine, some of whom have been taken prisoner on the battlefield. Britain s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, wrote on Twitter that the verdict was a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy. One British member of Parliament called the proceedings a Soviet-era show trial. But the defenders of the three men said that all three had immigrated to Ukraine, had made homes there and were fighting for their adopted country's army before they were ensnared in what appeared to be a trial in which the verdict was predetermined. The harsh sentences received a swift and angry rebuke from the British government. A spokesman for the prime minister Boris Johnson of Britain said that prisoners of war shouldn't be exploited for political purposes. Legal experts said the trial appeared to discourage foreign volunteers, including Americans, from joining Ukraine's military by warning them that they could be denied the protections granted to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. On Thursday, judicial officials in the Donetsk People's Republic, where Russian-allied forces have been fighting Ukrainian troops since 2014, doubled down on their claim that the men were violent mercenaries deserving of death.
Alexander Nikulin, the chairman of the Board of the Appellate Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Donetsk People's Republic, said the men had intended to overthrow the region's de facto government, which is allied with Moscow, and which Ukraine, along with much of the rest of the world, does not regard as legitimate. Nikulin said the court had convicted the men and sentenced them to death after they had pleaded guilty to the charges of being mercenaries. When handing down the sentence, the court used not only written regulations and rules, but also the main, unshakeable principle of justice, he told reporters. The men have a month to appeal. According to a video released by the Russian government, the three men stood in a glass cage in a courtroom in Donetsk, the capital of the region. All three were asked if they would plead guilty to the charges, and each said yes. Interfax said that Mr. Pinner and Mr. Aslin surrendered in April in the southern port city of Mariupol, while Mr. Brahim surrendered in March in the eastern town of Volnovakha. The British prime minister's office stressed that prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity and should not be prosecuted for participation in hostilities under the Geneva Conventions.