Ukrainian opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive] went on trial Friday in the Pechersky District Court on abuse of power charges. Thousands of protesters [Guardian report] surrounded the building, supporting Tymoshenko and screaming that the judge was a "puppet." Tymoshenko criticized the judiciary herself [press release] several times: "This is a real gang of criminals. Some people wear prosecutor's uniforms, while others sit in black gowns. I appeal to you, slaves in gowns—remember that you are a court." The defense also filed motions to permit access to the press, to have a jury trial, to dismiss the case, to remove Judge Rodion Kirieyev and for an extra month to review the case materials [press releases]. The motion for press access was granted, but Kirieyev refused to recuse [press releases] himself twice. The motion for more time was denied. The motion for a jury trial was not ruled on. Tymoshenko's website also reported that the EU is watching the case closely [press release]. No one in the EU has released an official statement commenting on the trial, but last month, EU official Catherine Asthon [official profile] expressed concern [RIA Novosti report] that the latest charges against Tymoshenko were politically motivated. The court was recessed until Saturday [press release].
Earlier this week, Tymoshenko filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website], alleging violations of the European Convention of Human Rights [text, PDF]. The complaint argues that the charges against Tymoshenko are politically engineered by current Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych [official website, in Ukrainian], Tymoshenko's political rival. In May, the Prosecutor General's Office (PGO) [official website, in Ukrainian] charged Tymoshenko [JURIST report] under Article 365 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine [text] with abuse of office [press release, in Ukrainian] in connection with signing gas import contracts with Russia. In Feburary, the PGO combined two separate criminal cases [JURIST report] against her and concluded the pre-trial investigation. The combined cases against Tymoshenko include charges initiated in December for allegedly misappropriating state funds during her time as prime minister from 2007-2010 and new charges in January alleging that she abused her authority and exceeded her official duties [JURIST reports] while in office by purchasing "1000 Opel Combo" medical vans at a 20 percent mark-up. Tymoshenko said the vans were successful in providing medical services to rural villages. The current combined case against her is not the first time she has been prosecuted. Last May, prosecutors reopened a separate criminal investigation [JURIST report] into allegations that Tymoshenko attempted to bribe Supreme Court judges. Tymoshenko's government was dissolved in March 2010 after she narrowly lost the presidential election to Yanukovych. Tymoshenko had alleged that widespread voter fraud allowed Yanukovych to win the election.