A Ukrainian court on Wednesday refused to release former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive] from custody. Tymoshenko was absent from the hearing [RT report] due to continuing health issues, although there have been reports that the court may eventually order her to attend. During the hearing, her defense lawyer read a letter [AP report], in which Tymoshenko described the severe back pain that was keeping her from the proceeding. Tymoshenko was convicted of corruption and abuse of authority while negotiating a gas contract with Russia [AP report] in 2009, and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Her appeal of that sentence began earlier this month [JURIST report]. However, even if the petition for her release from custody would have been successful, she likely would have remained in custody as a result of a court order for indefinite detention [JURIST report] entered last week. That order was the result of allegations that Tymoshenko was involved in tax evasion and theft of government funds between 1996 and 2000, a time when she led the intermediary gas company United Energy Systems.
Tymoshenko's prosecution has been highly controversial [JURIST comment] and has drawn harsh criticism internationally. Last week, the European Commission [official website] expressed its concern [Kyiv Post report] regarding a lack of transparency of Ukrainian hearings in prison, and declared that such a process does not correspond to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]. In November, the Ukrainian Parliament voted against [agenda text] hearing amendments that may have freed [JURIST report] Tymoshenko by fining her rather than sentencing her for her criminal convictions. The EU has consistently condemned [JURIST report] the former prime minister's conviction as politically-motivated, and has indicated that the prosecution could harm Ukraine's bid for EU accession. Tymoshenko herself has also made efforts to demonstrate that the charges are motivated by her adversaries, but to no avail. In August, the Kiev Appeals Court refused an appeal of her detention for contempt charges for a lack of legal grounds to contest the arrest [JURIST reports]. Also, in June, Tymoshenko filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the ECHR alleging various violations of the European Convention of Human Rights [text, PDF] and arguing that her charges were politically engineered by current Ukrainian president and long-time political rival Viktor Yanukovych [official website]. Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in the presidential election in March 2010, but Tymoshenko has claimed that widespread voter fraud contributed to the outcome.