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YouTube blogger ‘at risk of committing war crime’ following propaganda interview

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Graham Phillips had an interview with Aiden Aslin, detained by Russian forces in Ukraine. (Twitter/Graham Philips)

A British blogger has been charged with potentially breaching the Geneva Convention for his interview with a British prisoner of war taken prisoner during the conflict in Ukraine, an MP has claimed.

Aiden Aslin, from Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire, surrendered to Russian forces after fighting in the besieged city of Mariupol last week.

Footage shown on Russian television earlier this week appeared to show Aslin, 27, handcuffed with a cut to his forehead, in apparent violation of Article 13 of the Third Geneva Convention, which states that “prisoners of war shall be protected at all times, especially from public curiosity”.

On Tuesday, a video emerged showing pro-Kremlin YouTuber and fellow “Nottingham lad” Graham Phillips questioning him while he is believed to be detained in the Russian-held Donetsk region.

During the 45-minute video, Phillips repeatedly calls him a “mercenary”, rather than an official combatant, and tells him that the crime carries the death penalty in the region.

(Twitter/@cossackgundi)

Aiden Aslin, from Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire, joined the Ukrainian marines in 2018 and had fought with his unit in Mariupol. (Twitter/@cossackgundi)

Graham Phillips is a pro-Kremlin blogger who was in Ukraine during the war (Graham Phillips)

Graham Phillips is a pro-Kremlin blogger who was in Ukraine during the war. (Graham Phillips)

He also asks Aslin to confirm that he is speaking of his own free will, while being held by the Russians and handcuffed.

In the introduction to the interview, Phillips says he is not violating the Geneva Convention because Aslin is a “mercenary” and therefore prisoner of war (POW) status does not apply.

However, he claims that since they are “nice and polite people”, he will abide by the rules of the convention.

The convention is a series of treaties that set legal standards for the humanitarian treatment of prisoners and civilians during war.

Speaking at PMQs on Wednesday, local MP for Aslin Robert Jenrick said Phillips faced “war crimes charges” for posting the video and had in fact breached convention.

“My constituent Aiden Aslin served in the Ukrainian armed forces for four years. Last week he was captured by the Russian army in Mariupol,” he told the Commons.

“Yesterday a video emerged showing my constituent being handcuffed, physically injured and being coerced for propaganda purposes.

Robert Jenrick said Aiden Aslin's interview violated the Geneva Convention (Parliament)

Robert Jenrick said Aiden Aslin’s interview violated the Geneva Convention. (Parliament)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.  Picture date: Wednesday April 20, 2022.

Boris Johnson flatly rejected Phillips’ claim that Aslin was a mercenary stating that Aslin had been in the armed forces for several years before the Russian invasion. (AP)

Speaking directly to Boris Johnson, Jenrick asked: “Would my right hon. friend agree with me that this is a flagrant breach of the Geneva Convention?

“That treating a POW in this way is illegal and that interviewer Graham Phillips is at risk of being prosecuted for war crimes and that any online platform such as YouTube that hosts such propaganda videos should take them down immediately ?”

Johnson dismissed Phillips’ claim that Aslin was a mercenary, stating that he had been in the armed forces for several years before the Russian invasion.

He replied: “I think everyone will want to urge the Russian state to treat their voter with humanity and compassion because in my opinion, even though we are not actually encouraging we are actively deterring people from going to this theater of conflict, I understand he served in the Ukrainian forces for some time.

“His situation is very different from that of a mercenary.”

In a statement on Tuesday, relatives of Aslin denounced claims that he was a “volunteer, mercenary or spy” as propaganda issued by the Kremlin.

They said: “In 2018 Aiden moved to Ukraine where he met his girlfriend and eventually settled in Mykolaiv.

Watch: Starmer accuses PM of criticizing BBC Ukraine coverage

“Aiden decided to join the Ukrainian Marines and served in his unit for almost four years.

“He is not, contrary to Kremlin propaganda, a volunteer, a mercenary or a spy. Aiden was planning for his future outside the military, but like all Ukrainians, his life was turned upside down by Putin’s barbaric invasion.

“He played his part in defending Ukraine’s right to self-determination. The video of Aiden speaking under duress and clearly sustaining physical injuries is deeply distressing.

“The use of images and videos of prisoners of war is against the Geneva Convention and must stop.”

A second British national, Shaun Pinner, 48, was also captured in Mariupol.

In footage broadcast Monday on Rossiya 24 in Russia, Pinner addressed Johnson and appeared to ask that he and Aslin be traded for pro-Kremlin politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who has been detained in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s former defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk told The Times that the two Britons were legitimate members of the country’s armed forces.

Parading Aslin and Pinner on public television was a violation of the Geneva Convention, Zagorodnyuk said.

He told the newspaper: “There is a very clear process in Ukraine for accepting international soldiers or military. It’s completely legal, it’s official.

“Mercenaries are usually people who make money (from the conflict). That is absolutely not the case that we have here.