Former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko, who is serving a four-year sentence on corruption charges, has been pardoned by President Yanukovych. The West considers Lutsenko's conviction politically motivated.
President Viktor Yanukovych signed a decree on Sunday that pardoned a total of six people, including Lutsenko and Ukraine's former ecology minister Heorhiy Filipchuk. The pardons were recommended by the presidential committee on pardons.
Lutsenko's declining health played a role in the decision to grant a pardon, according to the president's decree. However, just a week before, Lutsenko had an appeal of his conviction denied by a court in Kyiv.
The West, and the European Union in particular, has long called for Lutsenko's release. His conviction on abuse-of-office charges is seen as an issue of selective justice against opposition figures.
Tymoshenko still jailed
Lutsenko is an ally of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year sentence on similar charges. She remains in jail despite having a history of back problems, and there is no indication that she will receive a similar pardon.
The EU has refused to move forward on cooperative agreements with Ukraine, in response to Lutsenko's incarceration and that of Tymoshenko.
"It's a very important signal that Ukraine still wants to fulfill Europe's demands aimed at correcting problems in the sphere of justice and elections," Valentyna Telychenko, Lutsenko's lawyer, told the Associated Press
Telychenko also called for Tymoshenko to be released.
mz/slk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)