International Community Condemns Imprisonment of Ukrainian Opposition Leader
May 25, 2012
By: Rebecca Aaberg | Printer Friendly
The trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukranian opposition leader, has been delayed until June 26, BBC reported. Tymoshenko is already serving time a seven-year prison sentence for her conviction for abusing power as Prime Minister. She recently participated in a 20-day hunger strike to protest her treatment in prison.
The United States (US) and other governments have claimed that Tymoshenko is imprisoned on faulty charges for political reasons. Tymoshenko’s prosecution is one of many “selective, politically-motivated prosecutions,” according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Thomas Melia. John Tefft, the US Ambassador to Ukraine, told Voice of America that “Washington continues to view her prosecution and the prosecution of other opposition leaders as politically motivated.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that the US asked that Ukraine free all its imprisoned members of the opposition in order to allow them to participate in the October 29 parliamentary elections. The German government has also spoken out against Tymoshenko’s imprisonment, threatening to block a Ukranian deal with the EU “if Kiev does not abide by the rule of law.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Ukraine a “dictatorship.”
Several European governments warned Ukraine that if Tymoshenko and other political prisoners are not released, top ministers will not attend the Euro 2012 soccer tournament to take place in Kiev. The head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has already promised to boycott the events, as have officials from Austria and the Netherlands. In addition, a summit of Central and Eastern European governments to take place in Yalta has been postponed.
It is questionable whether the efforts of the international community to block the soccer tournament will pressure Ukraine into dealing with its political prisoner situation. The upcoming parliamentary elections in October may perhaps make more of a difference. Catherine Ashton, EU Foreign Policy Chief, said that the EU sees the October elections as a test: “We will…consider what happens next in the light of developments in Ukraine. We wish to sign [the agreement] but Ukraine needs to show that it lives in the spirit of this political association. The conditions of the electoral campaign and the voting process will be crucial for our assessment of [the October parliamentary] elections.” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt agreed with Ashton and expressed his belief that Tymoshenko’s imprisonment is only one of many issues: “We talk a lot about the case of Yulia Tymoshenko and the strong humanitarian concerns we have about that particular case, but it is a lot more and a lot broader than one single person. It is an erosion of the rule of law that we see in Ukraine at the moment from a level that from the start wasn’t that satisfying.”
According to Taras Kuzio, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies: “The priority for [the Ukranian government] is to obtain a parliamentary majority, because they see that as a stepping stone to Yanukovych winning a second term in 2015. So there will be no softening of the official position on these individuals who are incarcerated for political reasons, because the priority for Viktor Yanukovych is not European integration. The priority for Viktor Yanukovych is a political and economic monopoly of power."
Despite the international community’s response to Tymoshenko’s conviction, the Ukranian government has denied accusations that Tymoshenko is a political prisoner and that political repression exists in the country. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has invited members of the EU to observe the appeal process and maintained that her conviction was “by a free and independent judiciary,” BBC reported.
Tymoshenko led the Orange Revolution in 2004, when she assisted in blocking now-President Yiktor Yanukovych’s presidential bid.
For previous news on Ukraine, please see:
Former Orange Revolution Leader Sentenced In Ukraine; US Says Politically Motivated
BBC - Tymoshenko appeal delayed by Ukraine
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - US Calls For Ukraine To Release Opposition Leaders
Reuters - EU ministers delay Ukraine pact, soccer decision
Voice of America - Germany Threatens to Block Ukraine-EU Deal Over Jailed Opposition Leader
Voice of America - Ukraine Under Increasing Fire Over Jailed Ex-PM