In the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, under Russian control, a court has charged five foreign nationals with “mercenaries”, three of whom now face the death penalty.
The five – Swede Mathias Gustafsson, Croatian Vjekoslav Prebeg and Britons John Harding, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill – have pleaded not guilty to the mercenary charges. The court is not internationally recognized.
Gustafsson, Prebeg and Harding were all captured in the port city of Mariupol and face the death penalty under the laws of the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk. According to local reports, they are accused of “participating in military activities as mercenaries” and of having attempted to “violently seize power”.
“The court must clarify that the charge against Gustafsson, Prebeg and Harding provides for the death penalty,” the judge said during the hearing, according to Russian media TASS.
Healy and Hill have also been charged but are not facing execution. The trial will resume in early October.
A UK Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We condemn the exploitation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees for political purposes and have discussed this with Russia. We are in constant contact with the Ukrainian government on their cases and fully support Ukraine in its efforts to free them.
In June, two British citizens and a Moroccan national were sentenced to death by a court in Donetsk after being found guilty of being foreign mercenaries and participating in “terrorist” activities when they were captured by the Russian forces. Their executions have not yet taken place and all have appealed their sentences.
The Swedish and Croatian foreign ministries were not immediately available for comment.
This story has been updated.