The husband of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been granted asylum in the Czech Republic, a week after his wife was transferred to a penal colony to serve a seven-year sentence.
Yulia Tymoshenko, 51, was convicted in October of abuse of office for signing an allegedly disadvantageous gas deal with Russia in 2009. She lost an appeal last month. Critics say the prosecution was politically motivated and probably ordered by her rival, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who denies that accusation.
The Czech interior ministry confirmed on Friday it had approved the application for asylum submitted by Tymoshenko’s partner, Oleksandr, a businessman.
Batkivshchina, the political party led by Tymoshenko, issued a statement on Thursday saying: “This step by Oleksander Tymoshenko is the response to amoral attempts to torture and put pressure on Yulia Tymoshenko by persecuting her relatives and people close to her.”
Natasha Lysova, Tymoshenko’s spokeswoman, told the Guardian by telephone from Kiev that the politician’s husband had not suffered direct persecution, but he feared authorities might harass him to silence his wife.
“Anything is possible with this regime,” Lysova said. “Their illegal terror campaign against Yulia Tymoshenko is a deliberate attempt to destroy her as Yanukovych’s main political opponent at elections.”
Ukraine will hold a parliamentary vote in October and a presidential poll in 2015.
Tymoshenko was one of the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which saw hundreds of thousands of demonstrators take to the streets of Kiev in protest at a rigged presidential election. Yanukovych lost the rerun to Tymoshenko’s ally, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, but he preserved solid support in the Russian-speaking east of the country. He then capitalized on divisions in the orange camp to seize the presidency in 2010, although Tymoshenko came a narrow second.
The US and EU called the Tymoshenko trial an example of “selective justice” and the EU has stalled on a political association and free trade agreement with Ukraine over the case.
Yulia Tymoshenko was transferred from a detention center in Kiev to the Kachaniv women’s prison colony in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, on Dec. 30.