The days stretched into months before the first significant legal decision in her favor came down on Monday, a ruling in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, which settles cases of rights abuse after plaintiffs have exhausted their appeals in their home country’s courts.
The court ruled that Ms. Tymoshenko’s arrest midway through a 2011 trial on charges that she had abused her office while concluding a natural gas deal with Russia was illegal and politically motivated.
It rejected a claim that conditions in prison were inhumane and degrading.
In Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, Ms. Tymoshenko’s daughter, Eugenia, told a news conference that the ruling was a “first ray of sunlight” for her imprisoned mother.
“The European court has recognized my mom as a political prisoner, and now the authorities in Ukraine will no longer be able to deny this,” she said.
The ruling, however, does not oblige Ukraine’s judicial system to order Ms. Tymoshenko’s release or decide on the merits of the case against her.
It covered Ms. Tymoshenko’s arrest in August of 2011 on contempt of court charges stemming from her remaining seated while addressing a judge.
The court ruled that her subsequent imprisonment for about four months during the trial and initial appeal, before her sentence took effect, was groundless because she was not a flight risk and had shown up at court.
It was done, the court said, in an effort to prevent her from taking part in politics.
“The most important part of the ruling is the European court confirmed that the prosecution of Tymoshenko had a political nature,” Halyna Senyk, a member of Ms. Tymoshenko’s legal team at the court, said in a telephone interview from Lviv, in western Ukraine.
“It says the incumbent was intending to lock her up to prevent her from participating in political activity.”
The Ukrainian government had no immediate response to the ruling other than to say it would study it carefully.
President Viktor F. Yanukovich has denied trying to influence the Ukrainian court.
He has said he cannot pardon Ms. Tymoshenko because she faces charges in three other criminal cases.
The Tymoshenko case sheds light on politics in Ukraine that, much like the country itself, straddle a divide between a European sensibility and traditions deeply rooted in the Soviet Union.
Mr. Yanukovich, a burly provincial politician, has pushed back on Russian efforts to bring Ukraine within Moscow’s sphere of influence, defying critics who had caricatured him as a Russian puppet.
But at home he has not hesitated to jail opponents, and then pardon some later.
The county is growing isolated.
In slowing talks on a free trade zone with Ukraine, the European Union referred to the “selective prosecution” that occurs there.
Aides to Ms. Tymoshenko, a steely, stylish politician who makes a point of wearing her hair in a traditional Ukrainian braid, say the government hopes to keep her imprisoned long enough to render her irrelevant in Ukrainian politics.
The case that led to Monday’s ruling began in a crowded, sweaty Kiev courtroom where, during her trial, Ms. Tymoshenko, petite and wearing cream and lavender suits, sat with her hands crossed on a table in front of her.
She once wrote that “every morning I dress to feel comfortable either at a riot or in prison.”
Sitting, she told the judge, Rodion Kireyev, that she would not stand before him because she did not respect him: he was not a legitimate judge because the proceedings were not criminal but political, she said.
Judge Kireyev’s decision to jail her for contempt and then approve a prosecutorial appeal to remand her to jail for the length of trial because she had arrived late were the narrow subjects of the human rights court’s ruling.
The Kiev trial ended with her conviction and sentence to seven years in a women’s prison, which took effect in December 2011, four months after her detention in August.
A separate appeal is pending at the human rights court on her conviction on the abuse of office charges.
Source: The New York Times