Ukraine: Russia-backed separatists lift death penalty moratorium

Move by self-appointed officials in Donetsk ‘People’s Republic’ comes as three foreign fighters await their fate.

In this file photo taken on January 19, 2022, a pedestrian walks past a huge state emblem of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine
A pedestrian walks past a huge state emblem of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. [File: Alexander Nemenov /AFP]

Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have lifted a moratorium on the death penalty, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Friday’s move by officials in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) came as three foreign prisoners-of-war awaited their fate in the “statelet”, having been sentenced to death a month ago in a ruling that was not recognised as legitimate by the international community.

The two British nationals and a Moroccan man, who fought for Ukraine in the war, have been accused of being “mercenaries” by Moscow. Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun were charged with violating four articles of the DPR’s legal code, including attempting to “seize power” and “training in order to conduct terrorist activity”.

“In view of the need to protect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and interests of the Donetsk People’s Republic in the current military-political situation, the draft law proposes to recognise part 9 of article 202 of the Penal Code as invalid,” Elena Shishkina, the chairman of the People’s Council Committee on Criminal and Administrative Legislation, said on Friday.

Donetsk has been a breakaway region of eastern Ukraine since 2014 – and the centre of tension between Russia and Ukraine.

Russia threw its support behind separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk after annexing Crimea eight years ago.

The “Supreme Court” of the DPR sentenced the three foreign fighters, who were captured while battling for the Ukrainian army against Russian forces.

The death sentence increased calls to free the war prisoners.

“They are prisoners of war,” Amnesty International Ukraine Director Oksana Pokalchuk told Al Jazeera, adding, “It’s very important that no one who has a status of prisoner of war can be killed.”

“Prisoners of war must receive proper medical support and his or her basic needs have to be covered. That’s the basic requirements from international humanitarian law that are very clearly mentioned in the Geneva Conventions.”

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the United Kingdom’s government was “deeply concerned” by the death sentences and will work to try to secure the release of British citizens.

DPR and its authorities are not recognised by Ukraine or most other foreign governments. However, Russia recognised DPR and Luhansk’s People’s Republic (LPR) independence on February 22, two days before the war began.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies