Tymoshenko lawyers say decriminalization not ideal, but acceptable to end "shameful"debacle.
The Ukrainian judge hearing the politically-charged trial of former Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko adjourned until Oct. 11 to reveal his verdict, leaving European Union officials concerned about the case — and its broader implications for Ukraine — guessing whether the opposition leader would be jailed for up to 10-years on abuse of office charges or set free.
As hundreds of supporters continued protesting at the Pechersk Court in downtown Kyiv, Tymoshenko declined to give a final statement to the court on Sept. 30 after Judge Rodion Kireyev refused to provide more time for preparation.
“You did not permit me to prepare my final word … I have nothing more to add,” said Tymoshenko, who has been behind bars since early August on contempt of court charges.
A day earlier, the 50-year old politician gave a fiery closing argument repeating claims that President Viktor Yanukovych, who narrowly beat her in a 2010 presidential contest, had orchestrated the “lynching” trial to sideline a top political opponent.
The trial is unraveling at a pivotal time for Ukraine. It came to a conclusion during a summit of European Union leaders and former Soviet republics in Warsaw that was meant to mark Kyiv’s progress towards a crucial political and trade deal with Brussels.
A large economy on the EU’s eastern border which is struggling to find the right balance in relations between the EU to the West and an aggressive Russia to the north, Kyiv hopes to wrap up free trade and association agreements with Brussels in December.
Brussels is keen to forge closer ties, not least to prevent Kyiv from swinging back under Moscow’s orbit.
But EU officials have in recent weeks increased pressure on Yanukovych, warning that political persecution of Tymoshenko and a broader rollback on democratic freedoms could jeopardize ratification of integration agreements by member countries and the EU parliament.
Decriminalization of the statute is not the option we greet. But given that there needs to be an exit from this shameful situation in which Ukraine has found itself with this case, we would agree to even decriminalization.
– Mykola Syriy, one of Tymoshenko’s lawyers
Yanukovych has denied such accusations and is pressuring Moscow to renegotiate a 2009 natural gas deal which Tymoshenko brokered while prime minister. Prosecutors say the deal damaged Ukraine’s economy and have called for a seven-year sentence.
Attending the EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Warsaw on Sept. 30, Yanukovych faced fresh stern warnings from EU officials.
“Europe has left no illusions,” said Donald Tusk, prime minister of Poland, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency and is the strongest of proponents in Brussels for closer relations with Ukraine.
“We have presented to the authorities of Ukraine a very clear opinion of the European Union and of each and every one of us individually: Namely that the bad treatment of the opposition, the violation of citizen and civil standards infringe very gravely upon the execution of [Ukraine’s European Union] aspirations.
European standards are first and foremost respect for human and civil rights. And let there be no doubt that it is these values that we particularly [require] when we talk about the European perspective of our partners.”
Ukrainian civic activists describe the Tymoshenko case as symbolic of a broader rollback of democratic gains achieved after the 2004 Orange Revolution.
But regardless of what verdict is reached in the trial, they have urged Brussels to continue integration efforts to keep Kyiv on a path of reforms and out of Russia’s orbit.
Yanukovych has hinted in private discussions with EU officials that he could seek a face-saving exit from the debacle, possibly through legislation that “decriminalizes” charges that Tymoshenko faces.
With the eleven-day break in the trial, the focus now turns to Ukraine’s parliament.
Lawmakers have registered several draft laws that could “decriminalize” the charges Tymoshenko faces. The key EU demand is that Tymoshenko be allowed to take part in next year’s parliamentary election.
One of Tymoshenko’s lawyers, Mykola Syriy, said on Sept. 30 that her legal team does not see “decriminalization” of article 365 of the criminal code as an ideal option, but that it could be accepted as an exit strategy from the situation.
“Decriminalization of the statute is not the option we greet. But given that there needs to be an exit from this shameful situation in which Ukraine has found itself with this case, we would agree to even decriminalization,” he said.
“Decriminalization can be achieved in a fast manner, within days,” he added.