Two Britons and a Moroccan who were captured while fighting for Ukraine have been sentenced to death by a Russian proxy court in eastern Ukraine.
Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, and Saaudun Brahim are accused of being mercenaries, Russian state media says.
The court, which is not internationally recognised, is in the pro-Russian so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.
The men’s lawyer said they all wished to appeal against the sentence, Russia’s Tass news agency reports.
All three men were charged with being mercenaries, the violent seizure of power and undergoing training to carry out terrorist activities, RIA Novosti said.
The Britons’ families have insisted they are long-serving members of the Ukrainian military and not mercenaries.
The UK government is “deeply concerned” over the death sentences given to Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner, Downing Street has said.
A spokesman said the government was continuing to work with Ukraine to secure both men’s release.
He added that prisoners of war “shouldn’t be exploited for political purposes” and pointed to the laws of war laid out in the Geneva Conventions – which confers “combatant immunity” on prisoners of war.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemned the sentencing and described it as a “sham judgement with absolutely no legitimacy”.
“My thoughts are with the families. We continue to do everything we can to support them.”
‘Propaganda above law’
BBC Ukraine correspondent Joe Inwood, who is monitoring events from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, said the men, all dressed in black, had stood in a cage in the separatist courtroom listening intently as their sentences were read out.
Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner had stood motionless with their heads bowed. In between them, Mr Brahim rocked nervously from side to side.
Chair of the panel of judges Alexander Nikulin is quoted by the Russian-state Interfax agency as saying: “In passing the verdict the court was guided by not only the prescribed norms and riles, but the main, inviolable principle of justice.”
Mr Aslin, 28, from Newark, in Nottinghamshire, and Mr Pinner, 48, from Bedfordshire, were captured by Russian forces in April. Their families say they were fighting in the Ukrainian military.
The younger man has a Ukrainian fiancee and both men are said to have lived in Ukraine since 2018.
Newark MP Robert Jenrick called for the Russian Ambassador to the UK to be summoned to the Foreign Office to “account for this egregious breach” of international law.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry told the BBC that all foreign nationals fighting for Ukraine’s military who are captured have rights as prisoners of war under international humanitarian law, and Russia was “forbidden to abuse, intimidate them or behave inhumanely with them”.
A spokesman described the “so-called trial” of all three men as “miserable”, adding the government would “continue to make every effort to release all defenders of Ukraine”.
“Such public trails place the interests of propaganda above law and morality, and undermine the exchange mechanisms of war prisoners,” he said.
Chairman of the foreign affairs committee Tom Tugendhat accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of carrying out “a form of hostage taking, a form of revenge”.
The Conservative MP told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “It’s not a state, it’s not a court and the judges are merely people dressing up and pretending.
“The reality is this is an absolutely brutal thing to do to three completely innocent people.”
The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, or DNR, was set up by pro-Russian separatists in 2014.
Prior to Russia’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin announced that he was recognising the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine, in a move condemned by Nato and Western countries.
A month into its invasion, Russia scaled back its ambitions to capture Kyiv, and instead moved its focus to Donbas.
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