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Russia Ukraine conflict

Britons held by rebels in Ukraine’s Dontesk deny being mercenaries, plead not guilty

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Three Britons who were held by rebels in Ukraine’s Donetsk People’s Republic have pleaded not guilty to charges of being mercenaries, the BBC reported on Tuesday.

John Harding, Dylan Healy, and Andrew Hill were among five men who were held in the region and have denied being mercenaries in a Russian proxy court.

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Harding, along with Swede Mathias Gustafsson and Croatian Vjekoslav Prebeg, could face death sentences.

The three men facing a death sentences were taken in or near the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and were charged with attempting to “seize power by force” and “taking part in armed conflict as mercenaries.”

However, the Russian proxy court is not internationally recognized.

It recently sentenced two British men and a Moroccan citizen to death, but the sentences have not been carried out yet.

Foreign nationals John Harding from Britain and Mathias Gustafsson from Sweden, who were captured by pro-Russian forces while allegedly fighting for Ukrainian troops during Ukraine-Russia conflict, are escorted before a court hearing in Donetsk, Ukraine August 15, 2022. (Reuters)
Foreign nationals John Harding from Britain and Mathias Gustafsson from Sweden, who were captured by pro-Russian forces while allegedly fighting for Ukrainian troops during Ukraine-Russia conflict, are escorted before a court hearing in Donetsk, Ukraine August 15, 2022. (Reuters)

The five men were led into court in a Russia-backed breakaway region of Ukraine handcuffed with black bags wrapped around their heads.

The judge said that the cases of the five men will continue to be heard until October, according to Russian media reports.

Family members and friends of the Britons said they were not mercenaries and called for them to be treated as prisoners of war as per the Geneva Conventions which protects their rights.

Foreign nationals Vjekoslav Prebeg from Croatia, Dylan Healy from Britain, John Harding from Britain, Mathias Gustafsson from Sweden and Andrew Hill from Britain, who were captured by pro-Russian forces while allegedly fighting for Ukrainian troops during Ukraine-Russia conflict, stand inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Donetsk, Ukraine August 15, 2022. (Reuters)
Foreign nationals Vjekoslav Prebeg from Croatia, Dylan Healy from Britain, John Harding from Britain, Mathias Gustafsson from Sweden and Andrew Hill from Britain, who were captured by pro-Russian forces while allegedly fighting for Ukrainian troops during Ukraine-Russia conflict, stand inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Donetsk, Ukraine August 15, 2022. (Reuters)

As stated by the UN Human Rights Office (ONHCR) prisoners of war must be treated humanely at all times and “any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention.”

The UK’s Foreign Office previously condemned the exploitation of civilian detainees for political purposes.

The same court in question sentenced Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin to death in June, a move which was met with condemnation by the UK and Ukraine, stating that it was in violation of international laws protecting prisoners of war.

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