Europe's top rights court has ruled that Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was unlawfully held in detention before being sentenced to jail in 2011. It's a decision that may weigh on Ukraine's bid for closer relations with the European Union.
The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights was a political victory for Tymoshenko, Ukraine's former prime minister and opposition leader, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011. The court concluded she was imprisoned for reasons other than those legally allowed. The Strasbourg, France-based court also said Tymoshenko had been unlawfully imprisoned before her sentence and that she had no possibility to seek compensation for it.
But the European court dismissed Tymoshenko's claim she had been subject to inhuman and degrading treatment during her transfer to a hospital last year. Nonetheless, Tymoshenko's supporters have hailed the overall verdict as a victory, and her lawyer has called for her immediate release.
The Ukrainian government has three months to appeal the ruling and, according to the Interfax news agency, it is studying the ruling and may appeal. If the court's decision is upheld, Tymoshenko's legal team reportedly could petition Ukraine's Supreme Court to overturn her sentencing.
Tymoshenko was imprisoned on charges of abusing her office while she was Ukraine's prime minister by signing a costly gas deal with Russia. She is also charged in a separate case the European court did not address, involving the shooting death of a Ukranian politician. She has denied all the charges, claiming they are politically motivated to keep her out of politics.
The 54-year-old politician was twice Ukrainian prime minister. In 2010, she lost a tight and disputed presidential election to the country's current leader, Viktor Yanukovych. The European Union has suspended trade and political cooperation agreements with Ukraine over her case. The EU's executive arm, the European Commission, is expected to decide next month whether to recommend the signing an EU association agreement with Kiev.