Ukraine opposition leader appeals to Europe court
STRASBOURG, France (AP) — Lawyers for Ukraine's jailed opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, appealed to Europe's human rights court Tuesday as her only hope for a fair hearing, accusing the government of rigging the criminal case against her. A lawyer for the government denied any political motive and said her complaints about prison conditions and injuries were groundless.
An architect of Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko has been jailed since her arrest in a courtroom in August 2011, accused of negotiating a corrupt gas deal with Russia when she was prime minister. Supporters of the charismatic leader famed for her golden braids say she was jailed as the most potent threat to her political archrival, President Viktor Yanukovich.
Tuesday's testimony covered both the mundane questions of prison cell windows and cold running water, and the significant issues of inmate privacy, abuse and political retribution. Since the initial charges, the government has continued to build allegations against Tymoshenko: She went on trial in June on charges of evading several million dollars in taxes 15 years ago, and is the subject of a slew of other criminal investigations, including a murder case.
In April, Tymoshenko went on a hunger strike in jail, accusing prison guards of punching her in the stomach and twisting her limbs.
Since then, Western concern over her arrest has grown, and European leaders boycotted Euro 2012 soccer matches this summer to protest her detention.
"All this process has been prearranged and prewritten by the regime," said Tymoshenko's daughter, Eugenia, who attended Tuesday's hearing.
On Wednesday, Ukraine's highest court is scheduled to rule on her detention; previous rulings have consistently upheld the government, and Eugenia Tymoshenko said she held out little hope that the next decision would be different.
The government's lawyer, Nazar Kulchitsky, denied Yulia Tymoshenko had been mistreated in prison, saying an inquiry determined that the prominent bruises were either self-inflicted or simply the manifestation of an earlier illness. When pressed by a judge, he could not explain how Tymoshenko could have bruised herself. Kulchitsky said Tymoshenko repeatedly refused medical treatment while in detention.
He acknowledged that she had been under video surveillance in violation of her privacy, but said there were no recordings of her. He offered little explanation for why Tymoshenko's cellmate was taken away just before the time when the former prime minister said she was attacked by the guards, except to say that she was supposed to undergo a medical check.
After the hearing, Kulchitsky questioned the former prime minister's allegations that the case against her was political.
"The fact that Tymoshenko was a political figure is not enough to say that she was a victim of political repression," he said.
He also denied that Tymoshenko was arrested because she acted disrespectfully to the court: "The only grounds for her arrest was that she was trying to hide the truth."
Tymoshenko's lawyer, Sergei Vlasenko, said the case against the former prime minister was rigged and called on the panel of judges in the European Court of Human Rights to rule for her. Ukraine, a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, could face penalties if it loses the case.
"There is no fair judiciary in Ukraine at all , and there is no fair judiciary for Mrs. Tymoshenko," he said. "She is absolutely isolated from any communication with her relatives and with the press. . She asked me to address you asking help."
Ukraine's highest court is scheduled to rule Wednesday on the gas case, and if the decision goes against Tymoshenko as her lawyers expect, she will be able to appeal again to the European court, said Roman Kuybida, an analyst with the Kiev-based Center for Political and Legal Reforms.
Tymoshenko's following remains strong in Ukraine, where demonstrations at the prison in support of her can grow to thousands of people crying "Freedom for Yulia!"
Associated Press writer Anna Melnichuck in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.