RABAT, Morocco (AP) — The father of a Moroccan man facing execution after being captured by Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine appealed Monday to Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene, “as a father,” to spare his son from the firing squad.
“I want my son back, just like any father would,” Taher Saadoun told reporters in the Moroccan capital, Rabat.
Saadoun also called on Morocco’s government to pursue negotiations on behalf of his 21-year-old son, Brahim, who was sentenced June 9 to the death penalty alongside two Britons, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner. They are the first foreign fighters sentenced by Ukraine’s Russian-backed rebels.
A court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic convicted all three of terrorism and trying to overturn constitutional order. They were given a month to appeal, and could be executed as soon as early July if they don’t.
The proceedings were denounced by the West as a sham and a violation of the rules of war, but the sentence was supported by Russian officials.
While the court claimed Saadoun was a mercenary, his father insisted that he was enlisted in Ukraine’s regular army and that when he was captured, he was wearing an official Ukrainian army uniform and carrying a weapon with serial numbers belonging to the Ukrainian government.
The Donetsk republic’s self-styled “foreign minister,” Nataliya Nikonorova, told Russian state TV on Monday that none of the three condemned men have filed yet for pardons.
The father said his son’s local lawyer will submit the appeal when things calm down a bit, without providing a date. A lawyer for Aslin said the Briton is pessimistic about his prospects and that British authorities have not contacted the DPR about an appeal.
Saadoun’s father said he wrote to Putin and the leader of the Donetsk Republic, and pleaded for intervention on his son's behalf.
“I’m appealing to Russian President Putin to step in as a father, by using NGOs and humanitarian organizations” to seek dialogue, Taher Saadoun said. “Russia is accountable because it supports the Donetsk Republic.”
Brahim Saadoun’s mother visited the Russian Embassy in Rabat, “which welcomed us warmly and gave us the case summary,” Taher Saadoun said. The father said he had “faith” in the Donetsk court and that he was “grateful” to Russia for sparing his son’s life when he was captured.
The father, a retired member of Morocco’s Royal Gendarmerie, said he hasn’t heard from anyone from the Moroccan government about his son’s situation, but they ought to get in touch "because I pay taxes and I am military man who carried weapons to defend my country.”
“I call on the prime minister of Morocco to step in and engage in dialogue through all formal and informal channels,” he said.
The Moroccan foreign ministry said in a statement earlier this month that Saadoun obtained Ukrainian citizenship and enlisted in the Ukrainian army “of his own free will,” and is imprisoned by “an entity which is recognized neither by the United Nations nor by Morocco.” It has not commented on eventual efforts for his release.
The family is seeking to provide Brahim Saadoun with its own lawyer, and to visit him in prison. They haven’t spoken to him since his arrest.
“I am ready to board the first flight to see him and bring him home,” his father said.
Born in the city of Meknes, Brahim Saadoun read a lot and did well in school, and attended flying and skydiving clubs, his father said. In addition to Arabic, he studied English and French, and started Russian at age 12, notably watching cartoons and news channels like Russia Today, according to his father.
The family hoped for him to pursue space and aviation sciences in Russia after high school, but chose Ukraine over Russia because it was more affordable.
Brahim moved to Ukraine in 2019, picked up Ukrainian and started studying at the Institute of Aeronautics and Space Sciences in Kyiv the next year.
While there, he used to have regular communication with his sister in Finland and his family in Morocco, his father said. He noted shifts in Brahim’s behavior in 2020, after he began purchasing military garb. Brahim stopped video chatting with his family in 2021, apparently to “hide these changes,” his father said.
The family learned of his arrest by pro-Russian forces after a brief pause in communications.
The father said he felt a little relieved when his son was apprehended by pro-Russian forces: “At least I knew where he was,” and that he was alive.
In the first video taken after his arrest, the father said Brahim appeared to be in good health, but expressed concern that in a later video it seemed like he was getting less sleep and had lost weight.
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