KYIV -- Authorities in Ukraine have placed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko under indefinite arrest following the resumption in her jail cell of an embezzlement trial
launched after her conviction on unrelated charges.
The move appeared aimed at heading off any chance of freedom for the 51-year-old former energy executive and heroine of Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution if her current appeal of a seven-year sentence for abuse of office is overturned.
The arrest order by Kyiv's Shevchenkivsky Court is part of a probe into the activities of United Energy Systems of Ukraine when she was, according to Ukrainian state security service director Ivan Derevyanko, "president and de facto owner" of the utility in the 1990s.
Tymoshenko and supporters and activists have been joined by Western governments in condemning the proceedings as politically motivated.
Tymoshenko lost a presidential runoff in early 2010 to the pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovych, whose flawed election win was the target of outrage that sparked the Orange Revolution.
The court resumed the ailing Tymoshenko's latest trial on December 8 in her jail cell in what her lawyer and activists say is a violation of the law and her rights, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.
Tymoshenko, who was prime minister in 2005 and from 2007-10, was arrested in August and sentenced in October to seven years in prison for abuse of office in the signing of a gas deal with Russia during her premiership.
Her lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, told RFE/RL that Judge Andriy Trubnikov had resumed hearings regarding the United Energy Systems case.
"Nothing to say about the fact that the charges are groundless, the hearings held in the cell [in Kyiv] do not correspond to any existing laws in Ukraine," Vlasenko said.
"It was a real farce. Tymoshenko is sick and lies in her bed. The prosecutor and investigator are sitting in the armchairs brought to the cell early in the morning today. They brought the desk in the cell at 7 a.m. They woke Tymoshenko up at 6 a.m. The judge spent a lot of time considering granting permission for me to bring all the documents related to the case to the detention center...[something] the prosecutor has been trying to prevent."
Kyiv-based human rights activist Yevhen Zakharov told RFE/RL "that this sort of hearing was not held even during [Soviet dictator Josef] Stalin's era."
"They just ignore laws, her state of health, and common sense," Zakharov said. "[Ukraine's] Administrative Code does not allow the holding of court hearings in a detention center. This is a violation [of her rights]."
Meanwhile, dozens of Tymoshenko's supporters gathered near the Lukyaniv detention center where Tymoshenko is being held chanting "Freedom for Yulia!"
Ukrainian parliament members and journalists were not allowed to be present during the cell hearings. The Ukrainian appeals court is expected to look into Tymoshenko's appeal against her verdict on December 13.
Many European and U.S. officials have called for her case to be resolved and that she be released from jail.
The head of the EU delegation to Ukraine, Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira, said that the offsite court sessions violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
Tymoshenko has been ill and very weak for the last several weeks while in detention, and former Ukrainian Health Minister Mykola Polishchuk told RFE/RL on December 1 that Tymoshenko most likely needed to undergo surgery.
Tymoshenko's lawyers say she is suffering from severe back pain, has bruises of unknown origin, recently experienced numbness in her left hand, and has nosebleeds.
On November 29, the State Penitentiary Service announced that Tymoshenko had been transferred to the detention center's medical unit and was being provided with full medical care.
Read more in Ukrainian here