UK brands death sentences on British soldiers held in occupied Ukraine an ‘egregious breach of Geneva Convention’

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UK brands death sentences on British soldiers held in occupied Ukraine an ‘egregious breach of Geneva Convention’
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Anger was growing on Friday over the fate of two Britons sentenced to death by a “kangaroo court” in occupied Ukraine.

Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, were captured while fighting for Ukrainian forces and convicted on Thursday of carrying out terrorist acts at a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, the eastern region of Ukraine now at the centre of the war.

But while Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemned the ruling as a “sham judgment”, Foreign Office officials are reluctant to escalate a diplomatic row with Russia for fear of strengthening its claim that the two men are foreign mercenaries.

Britain argues that the two men, who have family in Ukraine, are members of the Ukrainian army and should therefore be treated as prisoners of war.

Ministers hope that they will be able to work with Ukraine to secure their release through a prisoner swap with Russia.

Ms Truss raised the case of the prisoners in a call with Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba on Friday.

Aiden Aslin, left, and Shaun Pinner, right, and Moroccan Saaudun Brahim, centre, sit behind bars in a courtroom in Donetsk (AP)
Aiden Aslin, left, and Shaun Pinner, right, and Moroccan Saaudun Brahim, centre, sit behind bars in a courtroom in Donetsk (AP)

The Foreign Secretary tweeted: “Spoke with Ukrainian FM Dmytro Kuleba to discuss efforts to secure the release of prisoners of war held by Russian proxies.

“The judgment against them is an egregious breach of the Geneva convention.

“The UK continues to back Ukraine against Putin’s barbaric invasion.”

Officials earlier stressed that while the phone call had been in the diary for “a few days” and was set to cover the UK’s support for Ukraine more broadly, Ms Truss would be raising the issue of the two captured Britons.

In a tweet she said: “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.”

On Friday Robert Jenrick, Tory MP for Newark where Mr Aslin lived, called on Ms Truss to summon the Russian ambassador to the Foreign Office and to send the “clearest signal possible” to Russia that the way the two men are being treated is unacceptable.

“The Foreign Office haven’t confirmed whether they’re going to summon the [Russian] ambassador yet but I hope that they do because I think we should be sending the clearest signal possible that is unacceptable behaviour,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

“My constituent has a Ukrainian partner, joined the Ukrainian armed forces in the normal way long before Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and was captured at Mariupol along with a lot of other Ukrainian soldiers.

“But instead of being treated normally in accordance with the Geneva Convention... he has been put on this appalling show trial as a kangaroo court and ultimately sentenced to death. There’s no credibility in Russia’s case here, whatsoever.”

A senior Ukrainian official said Russia wanted to use the captured Britons as “hostages” to put pressure on the West over peace negotiations.

Vadym Denysenko, an Interior Ministry adviser, said: “The trial of the foreigners raises the stakes in the Russian Federation’s negotiation process. They are using them as hostages to put pressure on the world over the negotiation process.”

Education minister Robin Walker said the Government will use “all diplomatic channels” to pressure Russian-backed authorities to treat the Britons in accordance with international law.

“We have been clear throughout that these people should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention, there is no basis on which they can be put on trial,” he said.

Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner were both members of regular Ukrainian military units fighting in Mariupol, the southern port city which fell to Russian forces last month after weeks of heavy fighting. A third man, Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim, was convicted alongside Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner on Thursday.

Mr Pinner’s local MP, Richard Fuller, told the BBC today he had spoken with the prisoner’s mother.

He said: “What is uppermost in her mind is access to proper health services so they can assure Shaun and Aiden are well and there’s been no coercion.

“And that they have access to independent legal advice as they seek to prepare their defence against this sham trial and this judgment which is completely against international law.”

Following the judgment by the Donetsk court yesterday the three men were told they have one month to appeal and possibly receive a reduced sentence.

The governor of the Luhansk region of Ukraine, Serhiy Haidai, said that the Britons would have signed official documentation upon joining the Ukrainian armed forces and that the verdict is therefore “not applicable to them, even if they are not Ukrainians”.

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