KIEV, Ukraine — Efforts to free former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison through the domestic legal system are almost certainly doomed and she is likely to remain in prison for many months, her lawyer said Monday.
Serhiy Vlasenko charged that President Viktor Yanukovych is intent on keeping the top opposition leader in prison to bar her from elections.
"Tymoshenko is a very personal issue for Yanukovych. It's very emotional: she is his personal, political enemy," Vlasenko told a small group of foreign reporters in Tymoshenko's office in central Kiev. "And according to the logic of Mr. Yanukovych, the enemy must be in jail."
Tymoshenko, 50, was convicted last month of abusing her powers while negotiating a natural gas import contract in Russia in 2009 and sentenced her to seven years in jail. The United States and the European Union have condemned the ruling as politically motivated, but Yanukovych has defied Western pressure to release her.
Vlasenko said parliament, dominated by Yanukovych loyalists, this week will likely kill a bill that would turn her crime into a less serious economic misdemeanor and allow her release. He also predicted that an appeals court, which will hear her case next month, would uphold the conviction. The appeals process usually takes up to two months, he said.
Tymoshenko is pinning her hopes on eventually getting the verdict overturned by the European Court of Human Rights, but Vlasenko said it may take some 10 months or even much longer for the Strasbourg court to make a ruling in that case.
Furthermore, it remains unclear whether a decision by the European court would be legally binding in Ukraine. Tymoshenko's spokeswoman, Marina Soroka, said if the Strasbourg court were to rule that Tymoshenko's right to a fair trial was violated, she would have to be released from jail.
But Andriy Kozlov, an independent legal expert, said that while Ukraine's Supreme Court would be required to review the case, it won't necessarily be obliged to overrule the decision by the local courts.
Meanwhile, Tymoshenko is suffering from severe back pain, according to Vlasenko, but the authorities are refusing to let her be examined and treated at a medical facility outside her detention center that would have the necessary medical equipment and expertise.
The pain is so severe, Vlasenko said, that Tymoshenko was unfit to be questioned, but was nevertheless interrogated while lying in bed in her jail cell last week. The Soviet-era small, stuffy and odorous cell has three beds, a small table, a refrigerator, a TV-set and dimmed lights are left on through the night, said Vlasenko, who was present during the interrogation. The toilet, closed off by short walls that do not cover a person entirely, is located in the same cell.
The Health Ministry said Monday that state-run doctors that have examined Tymoshenko concluded that she was fit to be interrogated, but would not disclose Tymoshenko's medical condition, saying that would be unethical.
Tymoshenko was convicted of overstepping her authorities while negotiating a gas contract with Russia. The court found that she did not have the authority to approve the deal, which was found harmful for the Ukrainian economy.
Tymoshenko insists that Yanukovych, her longtime foe, ordered the legal assault to prevent her from participating in elections and keep his power unchallenged. Yanukovych denies the accusations, saying he was not involved in the investigation and that a court made the ruling in her case independently.