Former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko arrested on contempt of court charges

Friday, August 12, 2011

Former Ukranian PM Tymoshenko
Image: Harald Dettenborn.

On Monday, Judge Rodion Kireyev declined the second request to release Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who was jailed last Friday for contempt of court. Tymoshenko faces trial in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, facing charges of abuse of office and exceeding her power as Prime Minister.

Prosecutors charged Tymoshenko in May 2011 for overstepping her powers by signing a gas deal with Russia in January 2009. Investigators believed the gas price agreement was too high and caused the Ukrainian economy to lose at least US$182 million. As a result of these initial charges she was placed under travel restrictions.

As the trial began, Tymoshenko was accused of repeatedly violating court rules and proceedings. The judge ordered her arrest for contempt after she reportedly refused to stand up whilst addressing the judge. The prosecution accused Tymoshenko of mocking witnesses openly questioning Judge Rodion Kireyev’s objectivity. Tymoshenko denies these charges and believing the trial is merely political. Tymoshenko’s lawyer Sergei Vlasenko describes her detention as "unprecedented and illegal."

Many have appealed for her release, including her lawyers, 200 prominent Ukrainians who signed a petition, leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Patriarch Filaret, and Foreign Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk. Both Tymoshenko and her supporters believe this trial is politically motivated with ties to President Viktor Yanukovych, suspected of attempting to bar her from future elections. The trial has attracted the attention of both the US and EU, who have criticised the charges, saying selective prosecution of political opponents is evident. However, the Ukrainian government denies any involvement.

Outside the court, protestors have been occupying Kiev’s main streets, setting up tents and waiving the white and red flags of Tymoshenko’s political party. The support for her release is overwhelming, despite a ban on rallies passed by city court. Protestors are being watched closely by dozens of Berkut anti-riot police. If sentenced, Tymoshenko may face up to ten years in prison. The trial is expected to continue next Monday.