Ukraine’s parliament votes to release former PM Yulia Tymoshenko from prison


Ukraine’s parliament today voted to release former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was sentenced in 2011 to serve seven years in prison for abusing her power in connection with a Russian natural gas contract.

310 members of the Verkhovna Rada voted in favor of releasing Tymoshenko, who has been incarcerated for the past 30 months. Speaking on background with reporters, a senior State Department official said the Rada’s overwhelming vote to “decriminalize” the acts of which Tymoshenko was convicted shows that the “alignment of forces in the Ukrainian parliament have shifted radically over the last 24 hours.”

A high-profile leader in the 2004 Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko served as Prime Minister between February and September of 2005 during Victor Yuschenko’s presidency. She was re-elected as Prime Minister in 2007 but ran unsuccessfully for President in 2010 against Viktor Yanukovych.

In October 2011, Tymoshenko was convicted of what many critics considered baseless and politically-motivated charges brought by Yanukovych’s government. At one point, she went on a hunger strike to protest her treatment by prison officials. Her health has also deteriorated and the 53-year-old Tymoshenko is imprisoned in a hospital.

The United States and the European Union have called on Ukraine to end Tymoshenko’s incarceration.

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After the EuroMaidan protests turned deadly on Tuesday, Tymoshenko urged opposition leaders to “never again sit down to the negotiating table with Yanukovych” and said charges should be brought against Yanukovych in the International Criminal Court.

“Yanukovych is morally responsible for every killed and wounded person, and eventually will face criminal responsibility,” Tymoshenko said in a written statement.

If released, there is a high likelihood that Tymoshenko will challenge Yanukovych for the presidency.

The Orange Revolution in 2004 was began after Yanukovych was declared the victor over Yuschenko in a presidential election marred by widespread voting irregularities and fraud. The peaceful demonstrations and international outcry pressured the government to hold another election, which Yuschenko won.

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