The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the detention of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko before and during her trial on abuse-of-office charges was arbitrary and a violation of her rights.
The court, based in Strasbourg, France, delivered its ruling
on April 30.
Tymoshenko -- a key leader of Ukraine's 2004-05 pro-democracy Orange Revolution -- was sentenced to seven years in prison in October 2011 for abusing her powers as premier while negotiating a gas contract with Russia. She was convicted of exceeding her powers by ordering Ukraine’s state oil and gas company, Naftohaz, to sign a deal in 2009 with Russia’s Gazprom.
Tymoshenko says her jailing was orchestrated by President Viktor Yanukovych and was aimed at keeping her out of politics.
The court agreed unanimously that she was arrested and held in prison before her conviction for "other reasons" than those permissible by law.
The court ruled that “the main justification for the applicant’s detention was her supposed hindering of the proceedings and contemptuous behavior. This reason is not included in those which would justify deprivation of liberty” under Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Tymoshenko, in her submission to the court, also complained that her detention conditions were inadequate and no appropriate medical care was provided for her numerous health problems.
The court dismissed the accusations of ill-treatment.
Tymoshenko's daughter, Yevhenia, hailed the court ruling as "the first victory, the first step to her full political rehabilitation and her immediate release."
"The decision of the court fully confirms the political motivation of the arrest and detainment under guard, the mockery that was used against my mother," she said. "And now, on the basis of this decision, I think that the [Ukrainian] President [Viktor Yanukovich] has the full ability and grounds to make a decision about her release, no matter who she is."
Serhiy Vlasenko, Tymoshenko's lawyer, said the court found Tymoshenko's prosecution in Ukraine "had nothing to do with the law."
"This is the first decision [regarding Tymoshenko] made by a European legal institution, not a political institution," he said. "Until today, Viktor Yanukovych could say that the assessments made by the European Parliament or European politicians were political assessments. Today, we have a legal assessment of the events in Yulia Tymoshenko's case."
Vlasenko called on authorities to immediately free Tymoshenko as the only way to restore her rights.
In Kyiv, the government representative with the European Court of Human Rights, Nazar Kulchitsky, said the Ukrainian government needs time to study the ruling, but he suggested they could appeal.
Both sides have three months to appeal.
Correspondents say that if the decision is upheld on appeal, Tymoshenko's legal team could petition Ukraine's Supreme Court to review her conviction and seven-year sentence on the grounds that it was issued by the same judge who ordered her arrest.
Tymoshenko also faces trial on tax-evasion and embezzlement charges and is being investigated in a murder case. She denies all the charges, saying they are politically motivated.
Both the European Union and the United States have criticized Tymoshenko's imprisonment as "politically motivated" and "selective justice."
The European Union has cited it as a major obstacle to rapid progress on free trade and a political association agreement.
Peter Stano, a spokesman for EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fuele, stressed that the "judgment confirms the concerns consistently expressed by the European Union regarding the arbitrary legal proceedings in the case of Yulia Tymoshenko," adding, "In light of this judgment, we call on the Ukrainian authorities to reconsider thoroughly the situation of Ms. Tymoshenko, who is the leader of one of the strongest opposition parties in Ukraine, who remains detained after a trial that did not respect a fair transparent and independent legal proceedings."
He added, "We also stress the importance of a clearly expressed commitment by the Ukrainian authorities to an early implementation of all judgements of the European Court of Human Rights."
The United States has said it is one of the most serious human rights problems in Ukraine.
Following the European court's April 30 decision, U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Washington "reiterate[s] our call that Mrs. Tymoshenko be released and the practice of selective prosecution in Ukraine end."
With reporting from Brussels by RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak and additional reporting by AP, AFP, and Interfax