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Human Rights

No release in sight for Tymoshenko

For the last two years, Ukraine's ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been sitting behind bars. Western governments have demanded her release, but further charges against her make that unlikely.

In April, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the detention of Ukraine's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was unlawful and condemned the imprisonment. On Wednesday (31.07.2013), that ruling will become legally binding, after the Ukrainian state decided not to file an appeal against the verdict.

Tymoshenko had filed a suit with the court against the decision of a Kyiv judge who had her arrested while she was on trial. Later, Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and fined millions for abuse of office. She was found guilty of signing gas contracts with Russia without government approval. Two years later, Tymoshenko is still in prison.

Hope for further rulings in Strasbourg

"The judgment of the ECHR is moral support for Tymoshenko," said Winfried Schneider-Deters, the former head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Ukraine, in an interview with DW.

Dean Spielmann (R), Luxembourg's president of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) attends the audience during which the court ruled that the detention of Ukrainian opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was unlawful but threw out accusations of ill-treatment, on April 30, 2013, in Strasbourg, eastern France. The leader of the main opposition party in Ukraine Youlia Tymochenko was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in October 2011, for what she alledges was a politically motivated prosecution. AFP PHOTO / PATRICK HERTZOG (Photo credit should read PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images)

The ECHR judges ruled that Tymoshenko was arbitrarily detained

The Ukrainian Ministry of Justice announced in mid-July that it had implemented the ECHR ruling: Ukraine now has a new penal code under which Tymoshenko would not be taken into investigative detention.

Tymoshenko appears to be counting on further decisions by the ECHR, which has been hearing two cases since mid-July. One will look into whether Tymoshenko received a fair trial. Tymoshenko, her opposition Fatherland party and many Western governments doubt that this was the case and have spoken of "the suspicion of selective justice." The Ukrainian government has denied the charges. A decision by the ECHR is expected in the autumn, at the earliest.

Humanitarian solution: a way out?

Tymoshenko's imprisonment continues to strain Ukraine's relationship with the European Union. Ukraine is hoping for an Association Agreement with the EU to be signed at the Eastern Partnership summit in late November in Vilnius, Lithuania. It would pave the way for the creation of a free trade zone, a milestone on Ukraine's path toward European integration. However, Brussels has stipulated several conditions, one of which is a solution to the "Tymoshenko problem."

A possible way out could be the so-called "humanitarian solution" - that Tymoshenko be released for health reasons. Western governments have tried to implement this option for months. Tymoshenko suffers from a back problem and is being treated by doctors from the Berlin Charité hospital, who have been regularly visiting her at a hospital in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. In early July, Tymoshenko's daughter Yevhenia said that her mother urgently needs an operation, and the family would like Tymoshenko to be treated by German doctors.

Germany's diplomatic offensive

epa03753869 German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (R) meets with Eugenia Tymoshenko, daughter of jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko , during their meeting in Kiev, Ukraine, 21 June 2013. Guido Westerwelle arrived in Ukraine for one-day working visit. EPA/SERGEY DOLZHENKO
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Westerwelle spoke with Tymoshenko's daughter during a June visit to Kyiv

Germany has recently intensified its diplomatic efforts. In late June and early July, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle traveled to Kyiv twice within a few weeks to discuss Tymoshenko's fate. The offer to allow her to receive medical treatment in Germany was still on the table, said Westerwelle.

The Ukrainian government, however, has remained unimpressed by Berlin's diplomatic offensive. Tymoshenko's medical treatment abroad would be impossible, Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara recently told news agency Interfax. Ukrainian legislation would not allow this, he said, and that's been confirmed by the Ukrainian parliament's human rights ombudswoman, Valeria Lutkovskaya.

But just a few months ago, Kyiv was sending other signals. At the time, Renat Kuzmin, Ukraine's deputy prosecutor general, did not rule out Tymoshenko's medical treatment abroad, saying it was a "possibility."

No release before 2015 election?

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has said several times that Tymoshenko's release after a pardon would only be possible under one condition: all legal proceedings should be brought to a close. A trial for tax evasion has been postponed for months because Tymoshenko has refused to participate in person. There are also other charges against the former opposition leader, including the alleged contract murder of a member of parliament in the 1990s.

Few observers expect Tymoshenko to be released from prison any time soon. "Yanukovych can not risk releasing Tymoshenko and deporting her to Germany," said Winfried Schneider-Deters, adding that Tymoshenko would "move heaven and earth to prevent his reelection in 2015." According to surveys, Tymoshenko is still Ukraine's most popular opposition leader.

DW.DE