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28 April, 2012  ▪  Oles Oleksiyenko

The Power of an Imprisoned Woman

The situation surrounding the former Ukrainian prime minister has attracted so much attention that any procedural nuances will now drown in fiery debates about the need to have her released, evaluations of the Ukrainian government’s proclivity to repression and proposals of possible ways to pressure it into releasing political prisoners.

On 24 April 2012, the Fatherland party published a letter Yulia Tymoshenko sent from prison through her attorney Serhiy Vlasenko. In it, she says that as she was transported from the hospital to a penal facility on 20 April, physical force was used against her: her hands were twisted and she was hit in the stomach area. She announced a hunger strike the same day. The opposition immediately blocked the rostrum in the parliament session hall, demanding a report from the Prosecutor General and unobstructed access to the former prime minister for members of the opposition with medical education. The law enforcement agencies dismissed all the allegations, as they always do.

The prosecutor of Kharkiv Region and the State Penitentiary Service deny not only the use of physical force but also Tymoshenko’s hunger strike. They say they do not have a written notification from her on this account. As is known, a paper is all-important for these bodies: no paper, no problem, and vice versa. Dmytro Kurushyn, chief of the Health Care Department in the Directorate of the Penitentiary Service in Kharkiv Region, even went on the offensive and claimed that there were no complaints after Tymoshenko was taken back to the penitentiary, adding that if her attorneys continued to spread untruthful information, his service would be forced to sue them.

ONE HAND WASHES THE OTHER, AS THE SAYING GOES…

The incident is being exploited to present Tymoshenko as a liar and thus cast a shadow of doubt on the information with which she has gone public. At the same time her letter was published, a video was circulated on the Internet in which a woman, whose face is unrecognisable but appears to resemble that of Tymoshenko, quickly moves around a cell and then kisses a visitor, who is also hard to see but presumably looks like Vlasenko. Moreover, Tymoshenko was said to have had a fight with her cellmate Yulia Abalova, who was then moved to a different cell allegedly on her own request.

Two other women were put in the same cell with Tymoshenko. However, strange things are happening to Abalova: no-one has seen her since her relocation. Even Nina Karpachova, who is still performing the functions of the ombudsperson, has failed in her attempt to visit her. The formal excuse is that Abalova has requested in writing to have no visitors. But Tymoshenko claims that her former cellmate was blackmailed with threats of repressions against her son…

Tymoshenko’s letter triggered a strong reaction abroad. Oleksandr Yefremov, leader of the Party of Regions faction in parliament, has already called it a planned provocation before the coming PACE session. The European Commission has demanded “urgent explanations” from the Ukrainian leadership, and comparisons to the cruelty of Stalin and Beria have been voiced in the European Parliament. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture is looking into allegations of physical force being used against Tymoshenko. Deputy head of the CDU/CSU faction in the German Bundestag Arnold Vaatz has said that Tymoshenko’s hunger strike should not be ignored and must have consequences for the Euro-2012 tournament. Rolf Mützenich, spokesman of Germany’s Social Democratic Party for foreign policy issues, has said that Kyiv must agree to have Tymoshenko transported to Germany for medical treatment and that “it was necessary to influence the [Ukrainian] regime to make it seriously consider the proposal of the German government.”

The situation surrounding the former Ukrainian prime minister has attracted so much attention that any procedural nuances will now drown in fiery debates about the need to have her released, evaluations of the Ukrainian government’s proclivity to repression and proposals of possible ways to pressure it into releasing political prisoners. Western politicians and powerful institutions seem to have received enough evidence to conclude that Ukraine does have political prisoners. Obviously, new criminal cases against Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko are hopeless in these circumstances as the world community will never see them as fair. The Ukrainian government has clearly lost the information battle and will be forced to reap the fruits of its repressive activities.


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