EU delegation refused access to Tymoshenko | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 09.03.2012
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EU delegation refused access to Tymoshenko

The EU is stepping up pressure on the Ukrainian government to release jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Protestor with photo of Yulia Tymoshenko

Protests continue for the release of Yulia Tymoshenko

On Monday a delegation of EU politicians attempted to visit the remote prison camp where former Ukrainian Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is being held. Tymoshenko is a Ukrainian opposition leader and was sentenced to seven years in prison last October for abuse of office.

As the EU delegation arrived at the prison in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, hundreds of Tymoshenko's supporters chanted her name and called for her release.

But the EU's mission was unsuccessful. The politicians were turned away - the third time in less than a month that western European officials have been denied access to Tymoshenko. Walburga Habsburg Douglas, a Swedish MP, said it confirmed their concerns about the Ukrainian opposition leader.

Tymoshenko's family and supporters say she is ill and has not received the medical treatment she needs. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly denied any maltreatment and say Tymoshenko is being held in comfortable conditions with access to adequate medical care.

When Tymoshenko was first incarcerated her supporters believed she would be released within a few months. But now more than a dozen other Ukrainian opposition politicians are facing similar charges. And last week, Yuriy Lutsenko, who served as Tymoshenko's interior minister, was sentenced to four years in jail.

Muzzling the opposition

Former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko in court

Former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko was sentenced to four years in jail

But reports of Tymoshenko's failing health and the ruling against Lutsenko have met with very little opposition in the capital, Kyiv. Nothing like the days of the Orange Revolution in 2004 when people power forced Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych from office after presidential elections marred by corruption and vote-rigging. But Tymoshenko's daughter, Yevhenia, who's led a high profile campaign to get her mother released, says that's because all the leaders of the Orange Revolution are now in prison. However she points out that according to a report from an international sociology institute around 65% of Ukrainians want to take to the streets and massive protests will take place once it gets warmer.

Yevhenia's international campaign has put pressure on the government of President Yanukovych. Earlier this week, in an open letter, five EU Foreign Ministers, including Germany's Guido Westerwelle and Britain's William Hague, said they had 'growing concerns regarding the state of democracy in Ukraine'. They described growing pressure on civil society organizationsand independent media - and said the trials against opposition members bear the marks of politically motivated and selective justice.

The EU has postponed signing an association agreement and a free trade deal with Ukraine over Tymoshenko's imprisonment. Brussels is urging Kiev to free her so she can take part in parliamentary elections in October.

Author: Saroja Coelho / hs
Editor: Gabriel Borrud