KIEV — Ukraine’s jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was a politically motivated violation of her rights, Europe’s human rights court ruled on Tuesday, dealing a harsh blow to President Viktor Yanukovych, who has insisted that the case against his top opponent was not political.
The prosecution of Tymoshenko, the country’s most vocal opposition leader, has strained the former Soviet state’s ties with the European Union and the United States. Tuesday’s ruling put fresh pressure on Yanukovych to ensure Tymoshenko’s release if he wants to sign a key cooperation agreement with Brussels later this year.
There was no immediate comment from the government, other than a promise to closely analyze the ruling.
Tymoshenko, a heroine of Ukraine’s 2004 prodemocracy Orange Revolution who was instantly recognizable with her blond braid wrapped around her head like a crown, was sentenced to seven years in prison in October 2011 after being convicted of exceeding her powers as premier while negotiating a gas contract with Russia.
The West has condemned Tymoshenko’s jailing and other legal cases against her as politically motivated and insisted on her release. Tymoshenko has accused Yanukovych of masterminding the legal campaign against her to keep her out politics. She insists her rights were violated when she was first jailed in August 2011 during her trial on charges of contempt of court. The Strasbourg-based court agreed unanimously her jailing was ‘‘for other reasons’’ than those permissible by law.
In Kiev, Tymoshenko’s defense team called on Yanukovych to honor the ruling and free her from jail soon. Her daughter Eugenia said that the ruling will be like the ‘‘first ray of sunlight’’ for her mother, undergoing treatment for a spinal condition in a hospital ward.
The Ukrainian government’s response to the ruling was muted. In Strasbourg, Ukraine’s permanent representative to the Council of Europe, Mykola Tochytskyi, stormed out of the courthouse after the ruling was read out.