Three Men Sentenced to Life in Prison for Shooting Down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014

The front of the destroyed plane's fuselage with several people standing in the foreground
The front of the destroyed plane's fuselage with several people standing in the foreground

The reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, at the Gilze-Rijen Military Airbase

In 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatist forces. A Dutch-led multinational investigation found that a surface-to-air missile manufactured and supplied by Russia brought down the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All 298 people onboard were killed.

Four men with ties to Russia’s security services and the missile’s deployment were charged for mass murder and downing a plane. The trial began in March 2020. All four men accused are believed to be in Russia or territory controlled by Russia, were never arrested and were tried in absentia. A Dutch court has found three of the accused guilty and sentenced them to life in prison. The fourth was acquitted.

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A judge in a black robe speaking
A judge in a black robe speaking

The announcement of the verdict in the MH17 case

The court sentenced Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Leonid Kharchenko to life in prison. Igor Girkin, a former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service and military leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, sought help from Russia and deployed the Buk missile system. Sergei Dubinsky, a former Russian military intelligence officer, ordered the transport of the Buk missile system into Ukraine. Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian leader of a separatist military unit, oversaw the missile system.

The judges ruled that the three convicted men deliberately took actions to shoot down a plane, but intended to shoot down a military aircraft. Oleg Pulatov, another former Russian military intelligence officer, was the fourth man charged. Pulatov was acquitted as he wasn’t sufficiently involved despite knowing about the missile system deployment.

None of the men convicted are expected to serve a day in prison. Many believe that the investigation, subsequent trial and guilty verdict will give some sense of justice to the family and friends of the dead.

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