Russia-Backed Separatists In Ukraine Lift Moratorium On Death Penalty


Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine on July 12 lifted a moratorium on the death penalty weeks after sentencing three foreigners who were captured on the battlefield to death.

Denis Pushilin, head of a Russia-backed separatist group in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, signed off on a decree that lifts the death penalty moratorium, a statement quoted by Russian state news agency TASS said.

The three foreigners -- Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner and Moroccan Saaudun Brahim -- were sentenced to death in June by the separatists for "mercenary activities."

All three say they were serving in the Ukrainian military when they were captured by Russia-backed separatists while fighting Russian forces. They are currently awaiting a decision in the appeal process.

Two more Britons who were captured on July 1 have been charged with carrying out “mercenary activities” as well, and a pro-Kremlin website said the men -- aid worker Dylan Healy and military volunteer Andrew Hill -- would face the same charges as the others.

The separatists are also holding other foreign fighters, including two men from the United States.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not exclude the possibility that the men would be shot and said Russia would not interfere in the jurisdiction of what he referred to as the Donetsk People's Republic, which Moscow recognized as independent three days before launching its invasion of Ukraine.

At a ceremony on July 12 to open an embassy in Russia, an official with the Russia-backed separatists was quoted by Reuters as saying that the use of the death penalty was irrelevant to the region’s bid for diplomatic recognition.

"Yes, it is the highest measure of punishment, but it is in our legislation, and it is not linked to the further process of recognition of the Donetsk People's Republic by other states," said Natalia Nikonorova, who identified herself as the foreign minister of the republic.

Only Russia and Syria have recognized the area of Donetsk as independent.

Britain and other Western governments expressed outrage after Aslin, Pinner, and Brahim were sentenced to death.The British Foreign Office said on July 2 it was in constant contact with the government of Ukraine on their cases and supported Ukraine’s efforts to get them and the other two Britons released.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on June 30 warned Moscow it must ensure the death penalty is not carried out. Moscow has said the ECHR’s rulings have no bearing on Moscow since parliament ended the Strasbourg, France-based court’s jurisdiction in Russia in a measure passed in June.

The British government insisted that as legitimate members of the Ukrainian armed forces, the prisoners should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

Based on reporting by Reuters, dpa, and TASS