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3 face death penalty as Donetsk court charges foreigners as ‘mercenaries’

In the Russian-controlled Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, a court charged five foreign nationals as “mercenaries” — with three now facing the death penalty.

The five — Swede Mathias Gustafsson, Croatian Vjekoslav Prebeg and Brits John Harding, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill — 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 a potential death sentence under the laws of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. According to local reports they are accused of “participating in military activities as a mercenary” and attempting to “violently seize power.”

“The court must clarify that the charge against Gustafsson, Prebeg and Harding provides for capital punishment,” the judge said during the hearing, according to Russian media outlet TASS.

Healy and Hill were also charged but do not face execution. The trial will resume in early October.

A spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said: “We condemn the exploitation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees for political purposes and have raised this with Russia. We are in constant contact with the Government of Ukraine on their cases and are fully supportive of Ukraine in its efforts to get them released.”

In June, two British citizens and a Moroccan national were sentenced to death in a Donetsk court after being convicted of being foreign mercenaries and taking part in “terrorist” activities when captured by Russian forces. Their executions have not yet been carried out and all have appealed against their sentences.

The Swedish and Croatian foreign ministries were not immediately available for comment.

This story has been updated.

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