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Jailing Of Ukrainian Opposition Leader Sparks Outrage In Europe

It was quite the scene at a Kiev court this afternoon: While a Ukranian judge handed a 7-year jail sentence to country's former prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, she turned to reporters and started talking.

As the AP reports, Tymoshenko called the trial a "lynching" and accused the current president Viktor Yanukovych of instigating it:

She said Yanukovych wrote the verdict himself and compared it to the show trials and horrific purges by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

"The year 1937 has returned to Ukraine with this verdict and all the repression of citizens," she said. "As for me, be sure that I will not stop my fight even for a minute. I will always be with you as long as it is necessary."

"Nobody, not Yanukovych, not Kireyev, can humiliate my honest name. I have worked and will continue to work for Ukraine's sake," Tymoshenko told reporters earlier.

What's important to know about Tymoshenko is that she was the leader of the 2004 pro-democracy movement known as the Orange Revolution. The court said she was guilty of exceeding her powers as prime minister in 2009 when she OKd a gas deal with Russia.

Europe denounced the sentence quickly. The Telegraph reports:

"The manner in which the trial has been conducted and today's conviction are an example of the politicisation of the Ukrainian judiciary. Ukraine's image as a country that is undertaking a fundamental pro-European transformation has been tarnished," said the Polish foreign ministry, which currently holds the EU presidency.

Baroness Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, said the union would "reflect on its policies" towards Kiev.

The Guardian has a bitof analysis on what the decision says:

It says that Yanukovych does not really care what the EU thinks about him. It also confirms what Yanukovych's critics have been saying for some time – that under his leadership the country is sliding towards Russian-style "managed democracy" and autocratic rule.

Since taking power, Yanukovych has rapidly reversed the fragile democratic gains of the Orange Revolution. He has put a squeeze on the country's independent media, with TV now in the hands of a bunch of pro-regime oligarchs. Nosy opposition journalists – such as the investigative reporter Vasyl Klymentyev – have disappeared. In parliament, Yanukovych's Party of the Regions has, using dubious means, achieved a majority. And politically motivated prosecutions have been brought against Tymoshenko and other senior members of her bloc.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.