Pro-Russian officials convicted two British men and a Moroccan guy to death after a days-long process described as a “disgusting Soviet-era show trial.” They were arrested while fighting in the Ukrainian army in Mariupol.

A court in Russian-controlled east Ukraine declared Aiden Aslin, 28, of Newark, Shaun Pinner, 48, of Watford, and Saaudun Brahim, 28, of Newark, guilty of “terrorist.”

The procedure, according to observers, was supposed to resemble the war crimes trials of Russian soldiers currently underway in Kyiv. Both Britons maintained that they were active-duty troops entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions on POWs, implying that they were serving in the Ukrainian marines.

However, they were depicted as mercenaries by Russian official media, and a court found them guilty of “being a mercenary.” The decision was promptly criticized by high-ranking officials.

“I categorically condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, who are being imprisoned by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine,” said Liz Truss, the UK foreign secretary. “They’re POWs,” says the narrator. This is a phony decision with no basis in fact… My heart goes out to the families. We’ll keep doing everything we can to help them.”

The men pleaded “guilty” to the allegations against them, which included terrorism, committing a crime as part of a criminal group, and forced seizure of authority or coercive retention of power, according to state-run news agency RIA Novosti.

The men’s activities, according to pro-Russian officials, “led to the deaths and injuries of civilians, as well as damage to civilian and social infrastructure.”

While the guys had pleaded guilty, they were awarded the death punishment because of “the main, unshakeable concept –justice,” according to a pro-Russia official in Donetsk. Only minor portions of the hearings were made public by pro-Kremlin media after the procedure was closed.

According to an official, the guys will have one month to appeal their judgment, and if their appeal is accepted, they will be sentenced to life in prison or 25 years in prison instead of death.

Russia is said to be using the procedure to exert pressure on the United Kingdom, and it may seek a prisoner swap for Russian soldiers convicted of murder and other war crimes during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In Russia, there is a moratorium on the death penalty, but not in the region it controls in eastern Ukraine.