(CN) – Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was arrested on contempt of court charges during her trial on Friday, prompting a hailstorm of international criticism.
Tymoshenko has been on trial since June for allegedly overstepping her authority and for her involvement in a natural gas deal with the Russian government.
Reports in the Kyiv Post suggest she will also soon be charged with complicity in the murders of Ukrainian statesmen Yevhen Scherban and Vadym Hetman in the late 1900s.
Tymoshenko co-led a 2005 political movement advocating honest government called the Orange Revolution, propelling her into office. She was also a candidate in Ukraine’s 2010 presidential elections, but lost to Viktor Yanukovych. Tymoshenko briefly challenged the fairness of the elections and has since become an outspoken critic of the Yanukovych administration.
Tymoshenko has alleged massive corruption within the Ukrainian government which, she claimed in a RICO lawsuit filed earlier this year, has contaminated even the judiciary. “Reforms” enacted by Yanukovych granted judges powers not mentioned in the constitution, allowing politicians and businessmen to exert tremendous influence over the justice system, she claimed.
Her website has complained of unfair treatment by Judge Rodion Kireyev throughout the proceedings, including filing a motion for his recusal.
The decision to jail Tymoshenko has raised doubts within the international community about Ukraine’s progress towards open democracy and long-term admission in the EU.
Many commentators have worried that the trial and arrest are politically motivated attempts to remove Tymoshenko from the public view. So far, the exact opposite has proven true.
Hundreds of protestors rallied near the Kyiv Pechersky District Court Building in support of Tymoshenko Monday, drawing international attention.
“We are extremely concerned by reports of today’s events in Pechersk District Court, culminating in the arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the Batkivschyna Party,” said EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Commissioner Stefan Füle in a joint statement released Monday.
“The EU and other international partners of Ukraine have repeatedly underlined the need for fair, transparent and independent legal processes to avoid any perception of a policy of selective justice. Today’s events are therefore a cause for concern about the state of the rule of law in Ukraine.”
They went on to say, “We reiterate previous statements that we and other colleagues have made on the high standards we expect from a country aspiring to political association with the EU. We urge Ukraine to uphold the principles and common values that form the core of the Eastern Partnership.”
Even U.S. Senator and former Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain weighed in, saying “The implications of this detention go far beyond the fate of one person”.
“Ultimately, what is at stake is the future of freedom and democracy in Ukraine,” McCain said. “Unfortunately, today’s action by the Ukrainian government calls into question its commitment to the fundamentals of democracy, and as such, will make Ukraine’s path toward a future in the Euro-Atlantic community harder to achieve.”
Tymoshenko publicly released a statement saying she has “no intention of committing suicide” before being incarcerated.
“I chose my path myself,” she said. “The meaning of my life is to protect Ukraine and make Ukraine a beautiful European state. This is all a test, but I will never give up my fight for Ukraine’s European future.”