KIEV (Reuters) - Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of office, has been moved to prison from a detention centre where she has been held since early August, the state penitentiary service said on Friday.
Tymoshenko’s transfer to a remote location suggests she is unlikely to go free any time soon despite pressure from the European Union, which called her trial politically motivated. The EU put off the signing of a major trade and political agreement with Ukraine this month over the case.
Tymoshenko is the fiercest opponent of President Viktor Yanukovich, who narrowly beat her in a presidential run-off in February 2010.
She served as prime minister after helping to lead the 2004 “Orange Revolution” protests, which overturned an election victory for Yanukovich in his first bid for the presidency.
A court sentenced Tymoshenko to seven years in prison in October, saying she had exceeded her powers when forcing through a 2009 gas deal with Russia as prime minister. Tymoshenko denies wrongdoing. She lost an appeal against the verdict a week ago.
“Tymoshenko has been moved to a prison in the Kharkiv region,” the state penitentiary service said in a statement.
The prison is located about 500 kilometers (300 miles) away from the capital Kiev where Tymoshenko had been in detention and where her supporters held regular rallies.
The European Union, which had planned to initial agreements on political association and free trade with Ukraine at a summit this month, put off the signing and cited Tymoshenko’s case as an example of selective justice in the former Soviet republic.
“The EU reiterates its concern about the risks of politically-motivated justice in Ukraine, of which the Tymoshenko trial is the most striking example,” a spokesman for EU Foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Friday.
“Given the strong international concern already surrounding this case, we call on the authorities to ensure that decisions on the detention conditions of Mrs Tymoshenko are taken transparently and in line with relevant international standards. The EU is urgently seeking further clarification from the Ukrainian authorities.”
Yanukovich has refused to intervene and the parliament, dominated by his supporters, has turned down several proposals to remove her offence from the criminal code.
On Friday, Yanukovich issued a decree cancelling Freedom Day celebrations on November 22, a holiday introduced in 2005 to mark the “Orange Revolution” anniversary, provoking angry reaction from Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party.
It said in a statement that moving Tymoshenko to a prison and cancelling the holiday on the same day was “an act of final, cynical and public destruction of the ideals of democracy, freedom and independence.”
Tymoshenko’s lawyers say she hopes the European Court for Human Rights, where she has filed a case against Ukraine, will exonerate her. The court said this month it would fast-track the case.
Tymoshenko, 51, has been suffering from back pains in the last few weeks and cannot walk, according to her lawyers who have said she should not be moved from the detention centre on health grounds.
But the penitentiary service said she was fit to move.
“Before departure, Tymoshenko was examined by doctors who stated that her health allowed her to be moved,” it said, adding that Tymoshenko travelled in a “comfortable” van.
Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Peter Graff