LONDON (Reuters) – Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine where two Britons and a Moroccan have been sentenced to death say the death penalty will start being used from 2025, according to an updated criminal code of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).
The DPR has had the death penalty on its statute books since 2014, but no legislation outlining how to enforce it until now. Rights group Amnesty International, which tracks the use of the death penalty worldwide, has not recorded any instances of official executions in the region.
A court in the DPR in June sentenced two Britons – Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner – and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun to death for “mercenary activities” after they were captured fighting with Ukrainian forces. Their lawyers say they will appeal the decision, which was handed down after a hasty non-jury trial with no access for independent or international media.
It was unclear what the new rules – outlined in an updated version of the DPR’s criminal executive code that was published on the website of the breakaway entity’s legislature – would mean for the men. Their lawyers were not immediately available for comment.
The new criminal code, in effect from Friday, also states that the death penalty should be carried out by firing squad and that the head of the Russian-backed separatist republic has the final say on issuing pardons to anybody sentenced to death.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said on Thursday it had issued an order to Russia to ensure that the men do not face the death penalty. The Kremlin said it was not bound by rulings from the ECHR, from which Russia has pulled out since it launched its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified his attack on Ukraine by saying he was protecting Russian speakers in the east of the country from what Moscow claims is “genocide” by Kyiv.
Ukraine and the West say there is no persecution of Russians in the region and Putin used the claims as a pretext to seize territory and try to topple President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Leaders in the DPR and the neighbouring self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, which are only recognised by Russia and Syria, have expressed their desire to become part of Russia. DPR politicians say that should the region join Russia, they would abide by Russia’s criminal code, where there is a moratorium on the death penalty.
Russia and its proxies in the Donbas say foreign fighters are “mercenaries” and therefore not covered by Geneva Convention protections which prohibit the execution of prisoners of war.
(Reporting by Reuters)