The British fighters sentenced to death by Vladimir Putin’s men in eastern Ukraine are appealing their sentence, a lawyer acting for one of the Britons confirmed.
Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, face being shot by a firing squad after being convicted of attempting ‘a violent seizure of power’ in an internationally unrecognised court in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.
The pair were captured in the besieged city of Mariupol in April after their Ukrainian army unit surrendered after battling the Russian army for 48 days.
Lawyer Yulia Tserkovnikova, appointed by the Donetsk court to represent Pinner, said: ‘My colleagues and I are working on the text of the appeal in the interests of our clients.
‘If the appeal is rejected and the verdict comes into force, a request for pardon will be filed because it is the inalienable right of our clients based on the laws of the Donetsk People’s Republic. It must not be violated and they strongly insist on using it.’
But the rebel official Denis Pushilin, who would hear a pardon plea, has already said he sees no grounds to grant it.
British war prisoners Aiden Aslin (left) and Shaun Pinner (centre) were sentenced to death penalty by Donetsk court on June 9. A Moroccan man, right, also received the same sentence
Aiden Aslin, 28, (left) and Shaun Pinner, 48, (right) face being shot by a firing squad after being convicted for being ‘mercenaries’ in an internationally unrecognised court in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.
Yulia Tserkovnikova, lawyer of Shaun Pinner
It is unclear why it has taken two weeks to announce an appeal, though the hopes of any change in the verdict are seen as all but non-existent.
An appeal hearing is expected in around a fortnight.
Aslin, from Nottinghamshire, and Pinner, from Bedfordshire, were on 9 June convicted to death alongside Moroccan Sadun Brahim, 21, after all three surrendered alongside Ukrainian forces to pro-Putin fighters in Mariupol.
Another British detainee Andrew Hill, 35, a father of four from Plymouth, has also been warned to expect the death penalty when his verdict is separately handed down.
Tserkovnikova said that Pinner had been crushed by the death sentence verdict.
‘He changed just before our eyes,’ she said. ‘He instantly became 20 years older.
‘All three of them understood that punishment awaited them.
‘They understood that punishment was inevitable for the crimes they had committed, but it seems to me that they did not expect capital punishment. Of course, it was a shock for them.’
But the rebel official Denis Pushilin, who would hear a pardon plea, has already said he sees no grounds to grant it. Pictured: Pushilin attends the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on June 16
Aslin is pictured with facial lacerations and bruises after being captured
British foreign secretary Liz Truss called the sentences ‘a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy’, but the Government has thus far refused to intervene directly to prevent the sentence.
Truss has argued that a British governmental intervention could be seen to legitimise pro-Russian claims that Aslin and Pinner are ‘mercenaries’, despite them being paid members of the Ukrainian army with Ukrainian wives.
Tserkovnikova echoed Russian and DPR officials and commentators in criticising the British government for not doing more to seek clemency or their release, possibly as part of a swap.
She said that ‘if the British authorities have such an intention [to change the verdict], I know only from the media’.
Tserkovnikova added: ‘This seems a very bad position for British representatives to publicly put on a show in the media and talk about protecting the rights of their citizen….
‘No-one prevents the British authorities from going out directly and applying to the state authorities of the DPR, in some way at least inquire about the fate of their subject officially, and not make loud statements in the air in the media.’
The British government says its citizens were regular soldiers and should be exempt under the Geneva Conventions from prosecution for participation in hostilities.
Truss said she believes the best way to resolve the situation is via the Ukrainians, and has held talks with Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba on the topic.
A Kremlin official meanwhile claimed British authorities did appeal for help in relation to the cases of Aslin and Pinner, but the note was ignored.
‘There was an approach by the British to us – they sent us a note but the note was so full of such arrogant and didactic expressions that it really didn’t produce any desire in us to cooperate in these questions,’ Ambassador Andrei Kelin told Russian state television.
‘They need to approach the DPR – our recommendation remains the same,’ Kelin said.
Russian ambassador Andrei Kelin (right) meanwhile claimed British authorities did appeal for help in relation to the cases of Aslin and Pinner, but the note was ignored
Though Russia does not carry out the death penalty, the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, whose independence is recognised only by Moscow, have it on their statute books.
Aslin has reportedly told his he has been informed that ‘time is running out’ and that his execution will be carried out imminently.
Aslin’s grandmother Pamela Hall told the BBC: ‘Aiden was extremely upset when he called his mother this morning. The bottom line is Aiden has said the DPR has told him nobody from the UK has made contact, and that he will be executed.
‘There are no words… it’s got to be everyone’s worst nightmare to have your family threatened in this way.
‘I have to believe what Aiden has said to us, that if the DPR don’t get some response then they will execute him. Obviously, I hope that isn’t true.’
It is unknown whether Pinner has received the same chilling statement from his captors.
‘I have cried buckets over this, but crying doesn’t help, I want do so something but I don’t know what to do,’ Ms Hall said of her grandson’s predicament.
‘After Aiden’s call this morning what am I supposed to think? I don’t want to lose heart but it’s very hard.’
A protest rally is being planned in support of Mr Aslin by the Ukrainian community in his home town of Newark this weekend to urge the government to step in on his behalf.
The leader of the DPR meanwhile claimed last week that the UK does not care about its citizens because it has not yet intervened in Aslin and Pinner’s executions.
Pushilin said the pair will be executed by firing squad for participating in the war as ‘mercenaries’.
Pushilin, who is a prominent MP in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, says Britain has not pushed for their release, thereby showing disdain for its own people.
‘There has been no contact from the British authorities,’ he told Russian state-controlled news outlet RIA Novosti.
‘It’s my impression that they have a don’t-care attitude to their citizens, despite all their grandiose statements about how they are looking after their citizens.’
British citizen Aiden Aslin, 28, stands behind bars in a courtroom in Donetsk
British national Shaun Pinner, 48, is pictured in a cage in a Donetsk courtroom where he was handed a death sentence
Shaun Pinner, pictured with wife Larysa, now faces execution by firing squad after surrendering to Russian forces in Ukraine
Denis Pushilin, the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic controlled by Russia-backed separatists, gestures speaking to foreign journalists in an area of the Mariupol Sea Port, close to where Aslin and Pinner were taken prisoner
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov recently told reporters in a conference call that London had not contacted Moscow about the issue.
He said: ‘Of course, everything will depend on the appeal from London, and I am sure that the Russian side will be ready to consider it.’
But Britain has so far declined publicly to raise the issue with authorities in the DPR, with Truss warning that if British authorities were to intervene directly it could be seen to validate Russian claims the detainees are mercenaries.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has intervened in the case of a Moroccan man sentenced to death alongside Aslin and Pinner.
The Strasbourg-based court will indicate to the Russian government that it should ensure the death penalty imposed on Brahim Saadoune is not carried out.
Saadoune was sentenced to death in the same hearing as the Brits, with whom he shared a cage in the courtroom.
It is not known whether Pinner or Aslin have made requests to the ECtHR.