Ukraine Rights Official Calls For Release Of Jailed Former Minister

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's top human rights protection official on Wednesday called for the release of former interior minister Yury Lutsenko, saying the government had no right to keep one of its most outspoken opponents behind bars.

Former interior minister Yury Lutsenko.

Lutsenko was taken into police custody in December for allegedly refusing to cooperate with authorities in an investigation into allegations of corruption against him.

The former leading figure of the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution is on hunger strike in Lukyanovka prison in Kiev.

Nina Karpacheva, senior ombudsman for parliament, said Lutsenko's health was deteriorating rapidly after four months in pre-trial detention which clearly violated constitutional human rights guarantees.

'The prosecutor's arguments are groundless,' Karpacheva said in a letter to Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka. 'He must be released immediately.'

The letter came a day after Lutsenko's wife Iryna led a protest outside the prison, where she told supporters he would either 'leave his cell as normal person with his head held up, or feet first.'

Prosecutors have accused Lutsenko of having appointed his personal driver to a senior police post and of using Interior Ministry funds earmarked for law enforcement to purchase fireworks and gifts for a national police day celebration.

Lutsenko has denied any wrongdoing and accused government, whose policies he almost without exception opposes, of political repression.

He embarked on a hunger strike in late April.

Prison authorities force-fed him at least twice in early May, but stopped the procedure after Lustenko's objections became public knowledge.

Lutsenko served as interior minister from 2005-2006.

Source: DPA