3 get life sentences for downing flight MH17 that killed 298


A Dutch court on Thursday sentenced three men to life in prison and acquitted one for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 that killed all 298 people on board.

MH17 was a passenger flight that was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

“Only the most severe punishment is fitting to retaliate for what the suspects have done, which has caused so much suffering to so many victims and so many surviving relatives,” presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis said, reading a summary of the ruling.

Families of victims stood weeping and wiping away tears in the courtroom as Steenhuis read the verdict.

The three men convicted were former Russian intelligence agents Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy, and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian separatist leader.

A fourth, Russian Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted on all charges.

At the time, the area was the scene of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, the precursor of this year’s conflict.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February and claims to have annexed the Donetsk province where the plane’s wreckage and victims’ remains were once scattered across cornfields.

‘No reasonable doubt’

Steenhuis said the men did not enjoy any immunity from prosecution as they were not members of the Russian armed services.

“There is no reasonable doubt” that MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile system, Steenhuis said.

Victims’ representatives said the ruling is an important milestone, though the suspects remain fugitives. They are all believed to be in Russia, which will not extradite them.

Moscow denies any involvement or responsibility for MH17’s downing and in 2014 it also denied any presence in Ukraine.

In a briefing in Moscow on Thursday, Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ivan Nechaev told reporters the government would examine the court’s findings.

“We will study this decision because in all these issues, every nuance matters,” he said.

The four men were charged with shooting down an airplane and with murder in a trial that was held under Dutch law.

Phone call intercepts that formed a key part of the evidence against the men suggested they believed they were targeting a Ukrainian fighter jet.

Of the suspects, only Pulatov had pleaded not guilty via lawyers he hired to represent him. The others were tried in absentia and none attended the trial.

Victims of MH17, which had been en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, came from 10 different countries. More than half were Dutch.

The investigation was led by the Netherlands, with participation from Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia and Belgium.

Ukraine welcomes MH17 verdict, wants further legal action

Kyiv welcomed the murder convictions handed out by the Dutch court but said those who ordered the attack must face trial.

“An important decision of the court in The Hague. The first sentences for those responsible for shooting down #MH17,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.

“But it is necessary that those who ordered it also end up in the dock because the feeling of impunity leads to new crimes. We have to dispel this illusion. Punishment for all Russian atrocities – both then and now – will be inevitable.”

The plane was shot down as Russian-backed separatists fought Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, a region where fighting continues following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The three men convicted were former Russian intelligence agents Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy, and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian separatist leader.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hailed a “profound joint effort” by Ukraine, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and Malaysia.

“Today’s verdicts send a message to Russia: no amount of lies can help escape justice. All criminals up the Russian chain of command shall be held accountable,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the ruling sent “the strongest signal to the whole world, including Russia itself, that every war crime committed by the Russians will be documented, investigated and brought to a conclusion. No matter how much time it takes.”

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