By Ivana Kottasová, Oleksandra Ochman, Jonny Hallam, Uliana Pavlova and Anna Chernova, CNN
A court in the pro-Russian, self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) sentenced three foreigners to death on Thursday, after accusing them of being “mercenaries” for Ukraine, according to Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti.
DPR authorities said the three — British citizens Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, and Moroccan national Brahim Saadoune — were foreign fighters who had been captured in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol by Russian forces in April. RIA Novosti said the three will be shot.
Russia is the only country that considers the DPR independent. The international community does not recognize the region and its institutions, and considers the territory to be part of Ukraine. Independent watchdog groups have long accused the separatists of a dismal human-rights track record and ill-treatment of prisoners.
The Ukrainian government said in a statement on Wednesday that it considers all foreign volunteers to be members of its armed forces and to be lawful combatants entitled to treatment as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.
RIA Novosti quoted the “head of the judicial board” in Donetsk as saying the convicted men “can appeal the decision within a month.”
Pavel Kosovan, one of the lawyers for the defendants, said that his clients would appeal the verdict, Russian state media TASS reported after the death penalty was handed down.
The UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the judgment had “absolutely no legitimacy.”
“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,” she said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Pinner was previously a member of the UK Armed Forces, according to a statement released by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office in April.
Several friends of Saadoune told CNN he initially came to Ukraine to study at a university and joined the Ukrainian armed forces in 2021.
The family of Aslin said on Wednesday, after a propaganda video of him and the other two men appearing in court was released by the DPR, that it was working with the UK Foreign Office and Ukrainian government to get him home.
In the statement, released through the UK Foreign Office to CNN on Wednesday, the family said Aslin was “a “much-loved man and very much missed.”
CNN has also reached out to British and Moroccan authorities for comment.
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