Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych [official website; BBC profile] signed a decree [press release] on Sunday pardoning Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister and a close ally of the imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [official website; JURIST news archive]. Lutsenko was serving a four-year sentence on charges of abuse of office and embezzlement, while Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year sentence on charges of abuse of office. The EU has warned that it will not sign a cooperation agreement [RFE/RL report] with Kiev until these two cases are resolved, as many believe the cases are politically motivated. This pressure, along with petitioning from the country's human rights official, prompted the president to pardon Lutsenko. Upon being released, Lutsenko said he intends to remain politically active. He advocated for Tymoshenko's release as well, but she has other charges pending and has not exhausted all legal options. The pardon comes just a week after a Ukrainian court dismissed Lutsenko's appeal [JURIST report].
Critics have labeled these cases as an attempt for Yanukovych to control his opposition. In February Tymoshenko was fined USD $2,000 for contempt [JURIST report] of court after a hearing in Kiev. In January the state began investigating [JURIST report] her lawyer for several criminal charges. Tymoshenko has already been sentenced to seven years in prison on corruption charges and is currently awaiting trial on charges of tax evasion [JURIST reports]. In September the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee [official website] unanimously passed [JURIST report] a resolution calling for Ukraine to release Tymoshenko from prison. Last July, the ECHR ruled unanimously [JURIST report] that the arrest and detention of Lutsenko violated the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF].