The Ukrainian Specialized Supreme Court has rejected former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's appeal against her abuse-of-office conviction and accompanying seven-year jail sentence.
The high court handed down its ruling in Kyiv on August 29.
Tymoshenko has been imprisoned since her conviction in October in connection with natural-gas deals reached with Russia when she was prime minister in 2009.
Ukrainian authorities say she overstepped her authority when she negotiated the deal with Moscow, saddling Ukraine with exhorbitant costs for the Russian energy supplies that the country depends on.
Her lawyers argued in court this month that negotiating the gas deal with Russia was a political act that in no way represented criminal action.
Tymoshenko, 51, has not attended the appeal trial herself, receiving treatment for back trouble in a state-run hospital since May.
Tymoshenko's defense lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, accused the court of acting under pressure from President Viktor Yanukovych by rejecting the appeal.
"This ruling was Viktor Yanukovych's decision: to hold Yulia Tymoshenko, his main political opponent, in prison for as long as possible, without any evidence, without any explanation, without any sense."
In a separate trial, set to begin on September 11, Tymoshenko is accused of embezzlement and tax evasion. Other, unrelated prosecutions have been suggested by the authorities.
'The Appearance Of Serious Review'
"The announcement of the verdict, which took more than two hours, had the appearance of a fundamental, serious review of [Tymoshenko's] appeal," Mykola Tomenko, deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament and Tymoshenko's ally, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service after the decision. "However, it is obvious to politicians and experts that this political case, which was launched with the goal of removing Tymoshenko from the political process, ended in the court of appeals also as a political case."
The former prime minister says she is the victim of a political vendetta by Yanukovych, who defeated her in the 2010 presidential election.
Tymoshenko was a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that derailed Yanukovych's first bid for the presidency.
She also contends that no judicial review was conducted into her detention, that the conditions of her confinement were inadequate, and that she has not received proper access to medical care.
Tymoshenko’s prosecution has been condemned by the European Union and the United States, who have accused authorities of abusing the justice system to target political opponents.
The European Union postponed the signing of agreements on political association and a free-trade zone with Ukraine after Tymoshenko's October conviction.
'Open Wound' With EU
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the United States was "disappointed by this decision."
The European Union expressed "deep disappointment" over the high court's ruling.
"We have noted with regret the outcome of the review by Ukraine's higher specialized court for civil and criminal cases of the verdict against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko which was presented this morning," Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, said. "We are deeply disappointed with the consequences of the current situation as two important leaders of the opposition are prevented from standing for parliamentary elections following trials which did not respect international standards as regards fair, transparent, and independent legal processes"
The British Minister for Europe, David Lidington, said in a written statement after the appeal's rejection that Britain will continue to press Ukraine to end "selective justice."
"It's just pouring salt into an already open wound between Ukraine and the EU," Amanda Paul, a British political analyst at the Brussels-based European Police Center with expertise in Ukraine and the South Caucasus, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. "It's just going probably to deteriorate relations, politicize them even further, obviously going into this crucial period of Ukraine's parliamentary elections."
Yanukovych said last week he would not negotiate integration with the European Union at the price of allowing the bloc to interfere in Tymoshenko's case.
Tymoshenko's defense lawyers are appealing her conviction in the European Court for Human Rights based in Strasbourg, France. That court on August 28 opened hearings into whether Tymoshenko's pretrial detention was lawful.
Several hundred of Tymoshenko's supporters held a peaceful protest near the Kyiv court on August 29, after weeks of gatherings there by other backers.
Tymoshenko is facing possible additional jail time in a separate trial on charges that she evaded millions of U.S. dollars in taxes when she headed a private energy company during the 1990s.
With additional reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP