Russia must ensure British fighters not executed: European court

The European Court of Human Rights orders Russia to ensure two Britons captured after fighting for Ukraine do not face the death penalty.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ordered Russia to ensure that two Britons captured while fighting for Ukraine do not face the death penalty.

A court in the Russia-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine sentenced British citizens, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, to death earlier this month after accusing them of “mercenary activities” for fighting alongside Ukrainian forces.

The ECHR said on Thursday that it had issued an order for interim measures, telling Russia it “should ensure that the death penalty imposed on the applicants was not carried out; ensure appropriate conditions of their detention; and provide them with any necessary medical assistance and medication”.

Russia, whose parliament passed legislation this month to remove it from the jurisdiction of Europe’s top human rights court, said it was not bound by the order to prevent the executions.

“Russia no longer complies with the prescriptions of the ECHR, that’s all there is to say,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

He said “the fate of these mercenaries” was a matter for the separatist DPR leadership.

The families of the two British men, who were deployed with the Ukrainian armed forces, deny that they were mercenaries. They were residents of Ukraine with Ukrainian partners, their families said.

‘Exploitation of prisoners of war’

The ECHR said the Britons had joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine in 2018 and had been deployed to the city of Mariupol where Ukrainian soldiers in their brigade surrendered to the Russian forces in April.

The court also noted the pair had “voluntarily laid down their arms and surrendered to the Russian forces in Mariupol”.

The ruling issued by Europe’s human rights court is an urgent interim measure, provided on an exceptional basis, when the applicants would otherwise “face a real risk of irreversible harm”, the court emphasised.

Russia’s ambassador said that the United Kingdom has asked for Moscow’s help with the case, but Moscow has told the UK to approach the DPR government.

The UK has so far declined publicly to raise the issue with authorities in the DPR, whose independence is recognised only by Russia and Syria.

“We are doing everything we can to support the men and are in close contact with and helping their families,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said.

“We condemn the exploitation of prisoners of war for political purposes and have raised this with Russia. We are in constant contact with the government of Ukraine on their cases and are fully supportive of Ukraine in its efforts to get them released,” the spokesperson said.

The ECHR had on June 16 issued a similar ruling urging Russia to stop the execution of Brahim Saadoun, a Moroccan citizen born in 2000 who was sentenced to death along with the two British men.

Earlier this month, British ministers criticised the ECHR for issuing interim measures that blocked the first planned deportation flight of asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda.

Angered by the ruling and the cancellation of the first flight, the British government later brought forward a bill that would give it the power to ignore rulings by the European court.

A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the prime minister is “appalled” at the death sentences handed to the two Britons.

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