Two British men captured by pro-Russian rebel forces in Ukraine have been sentenced to death and are set to face a firing squad after a sham three-day trial, sparking outrage from the UK and its Western allies.
Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, were convicted last night of being ‘mercenaries’ for fighting with Ukrainian troops weeks after they were captured by Russian forces during the siege of Mariupol.
They appeared behind a metal cage at a court in territory occupied by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine as the verdict was read out today.
Ex-British Army soldier Pinner stared at the ground and appeared distraught and close to tears, while former care worker Aslin remained composed. A third man, Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim, was convicted alongside them.
It is understood Aslin’s mother Ang Wood found out about the draconian sentence while watching the TV news at the family home in Newark, Nottinghamshire.
The pair were captured by Russian forces after becoming surrounded in the port city of Mariupol in April. They have since been paraded in various videos with visible injuries and appeared to read from scripts.
Tonight, MP Robert Jenrick said: ‘This disgusting Soviet-era style show trial is the latest reminder of the depravity of Putin’s regime.’
Meanwhile, the Russian leader was today pictured meeting young entrepreneurs in Moscow as the barbaric sentencing unfolded.
The three men said they will appeal the decision. The court in the DPR, one of two self-proclaimed break-away states in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas, is not internationally recognised.
The devastated family of Aslin today demanded he is ‘treated with respect’ as it was revealed his mother Ang Wood only found out about the verdict while watching television.
In a statement, the family said: ‘We’ve heard the news from Donetsk and need some time to take everything in.
‘We love Aiden with all our hearts. He and Shaun, as members of Ukrainian armed forces, should be treated with respect just like any other prisoners of war. They are not, and never were, mercenaries.
Aiden Aslin (second-left) and Shaun Pinner (second-right) – along with Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim (right) – were all captured while fighting in Ukraine. Pictured: The three men are seen inside a cage in court on Thursday where they were each handed a death sentence
Aiden Aslin (right) and Shaun Pinner (left) were detained in April while fighting in Ukraine, before reportedly appearing in court in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)
‘We hope that this sentence will be overturned and beseech the government’s of the UK and Ukraine to do everything in their power to have them returned to us safely, and soon.
‘We can only imagine what they are going through right now. This is a very upsetting development and we ask that our privacy is respected at this time.’
Aslin’s brother also reacted with shock at the news this evening and said his family needed time to comprehend the situation.
He said: ‘We’ve just been informed ourselves, currently my mum is in talks with the Foreign Office, but we are requesting that we have time to process this information privately due to how sensitive it is.’
The UK Government insisted the judgment had no legitimacy and the pair should be treated as prisoners of war. The UK’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemned the death sentences as a ‘sham judgment’ while No10 Downing Street said it was ‘deeply concerned’ by the development. ‘Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity,’ said a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Elsewhere, Austrian Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic said: ‘The illegitimate verdict is a blatant breach of international law and a provocation by the Russian war party.’
Former care worker Aslin moved from Newark in Nottinghamshire to Ukraine in 2018 after meeting his now-fiancee. In the same year he became a marine with the Ukrainian military. Pinner, an ex-British Army soldier originally from Bedfordshire, moved to Ukraine four years ago to join the Ukrainian military.
The two Britons surrendered in April in Mariupol, the southern port city that was captured by Russian troops after a brutal weeks-long siege that all but levelled the city. They later appeared on Russian TV calling on Johnson to negotiate their release. Brahim surrendered in March in the eastern town of Volnovakha.
‘The Supreme Court of the DPR passed the first sentence on mercenaries – the British Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner and the Moroccan Saadun Brahim were sentenced to death, RIA Novosti correspondent reports from the courtroom,’ RIA said on the Telegram messaging app.
Judge Alexander Nikulin said: ‘The aggregated penalty for the crimes [means] the sentence Aiden Aslin to an exceptional measure of punishment, the death penalty.
‘The aggregated penalty for the crimes [means] the sentence [of] Shaun Pinner to an exceptional measure of punishment, the death penalty.’
The judge did not mention another British detainee Andrew Hill, 35, a father of four from Plymouth, who surrendered separately to Vladimir Putin’s forces, but who has also been warned about a death penalty.
The sentence was issued after a three day trial in which the five ‘witnesses’ in the case did not appear. The three men stood in a court cage.
Aslin and Pinner were detained in April while fighting in Ukraine, before reportedly appearing in court in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) on Wednesday.
They are said to have admitted ‘training in order to carry out terrorist activities,’ before appearing again on Thursday when they were sentenced.
It is believed the men will be permitted to lodge an appeal within one month, and to ask for a pardon from the rebel authorities in Donetsk.
The DPR released a video of the three men being read their sentences.