A 21-year-old Moroccan, Brahim Saadoun, was sentenced to death on June 9 alongside two British nationals, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner. He is accused of having fought with the Ukrainian army as a “mercenary” by a court of the pro-Russian republic of Donetsk, the DNR. His lawyer, appointed ex officio, has just finished drafting the appeal which must be filed in the coming days. RFI was able to see it, in Donetsk.
From our special correspondent in the Donetsk region,
We meet her in a cafe in the center of town. Elena Nikolaevna Vesnina has been a lawyer for thirty-three years. Experienced and assigned to defend Brahim Saadoun, she communicates easily in Russian with him, she says, but to be sure that he masters all the elements, a French interpreter has been made available. ” I was with him at the time of the verdict, he did not react. It seems to me that he does not understand what is happening because of his young age, he is 21 years old. He grasped the sentence, but I don’t think he realizes the horror of the situation. »
Elena Nikolaevna Vesnina has just finished writing the appeal, and her main argument for the defense is the young age of Brahim Saadoun. ” When I met him the first time, he asked me: “Is this the DNR?”, with big wide eyes. I said to him: “But what, what did you think was here?” And he answered me: “I thought everyone here was wearing balaclavas and carrying machine guns.” In other words, I think it was propaganda that led him to these kinds of “feats”. My personal impression is that he was recruited. »
Brahim Saadoun, says his lawyer, also pleaded not to have fought. Deployed as a member of the Ukrainian marines, he traveled to Mariupol with the soldiers entrenched in the city’s other emblematic factory, the Illich factory.
The young man risks being found guilty again on appeal, but his lawyer hopes to obtain a long prison sentence rather than death. If the verdict is confirmed, the leader of the pro-Russian separatist republic has in any case warned: no question of pardoning the convicted. In DNR, the death penalty is applied by firing squad.
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Elena Nikolaevna Vesnina confided in our special correspondent in the Donetsk region, Anissa El Jabriabout his work for the young Moroccan Brahim Saadoun.
RFI: How did you start working with Brahim Saadoun?
SEND: There is a category of cases in which the presence of a lawyer is mandatory. It was his case. The attorney general’s office called me, I went there, and I took care of this case from day one.
How do you work with him?
He speaks Russian. When he arrived on the territory of Ukraine, he took Russian lessons and we can exchange. In addition to that, we have an interpreter who speaks French. If he doesn’t understand something, there is always an interpreter nearby.
How many times have you seen it?
Five times. I took part, with the translator, in all aspects of the investigation that were carried out with him. Each action: interrogation, reconstitution of the facts. We went to Mariupol, he showed where they had been hiding. The soldiers at the Ilyich plant in Mariupol all surrendered on their own. He is not the only one. There were a lot of people there. I even fed him all day, he was hungry all the time. I just finished writing the appeal this Tuesday, June 28, and I gave it to the translator to translate it into two languages, French and English.
Do you stay in touch? Are all calls allowed?
No, calls are not allowed. You have to go see it in person.
Where is he being held?
In Makeevka, in penal colony number 97.
What was his reaction to the verdict?
I was with him, he had no reaction to the verdict. It seems to me that he does not understand what is happening due to his young age, he is 21 years old. How to explain to you? My personal opinion is that he doesn’t realize the horror of the situation.
Have you had contact with his relatives?
A woman called me on her father’s behalf. She was his translator, I explained to her what was going to happen next. We are still texting each other. It was after the verdict, no one tried to reach me before.
What does the family tell you?
A family is a family. And, of course, they are worried. I calmed them down. In my opinion, still, there is a maybe a chance to change his sentence. I think he’s just young, so he didn’t understand what he was doing at all. That’s what I explained to his father. What will the court think? It’s up to him to decide.
The appeal, in any case, is drawn up; it will be translated within a few days, then transmitted. It is only after the date of examination of these complaints [le procès en appel, DNLR] will be fixed. Then we have another right: to ask for grace, but that will be the last step. Our legislation does not provide for other options. It’s the last.
Brahim Saadoun behaves normally. There is no problem, no conflict with him. We immediately found a common language. He comes from another civilization and arrived in a completely unknown world. And, probably, in this unknown he wanted to try everything, to experience an adventure. Again, that’s my personal opinion, I didn’t get into his head.
Is that what you’re going to plead in court?
I wrote all this in the call, I wrote these impressions. We do not dispute the qualifications or the circumstances of the case. We only dispute the punishment.