KIEV - A Ukrainian court rejected lawyers’ requests yesterday to free former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from jail during her abuse of office trial, a case the West has condemned as selective justice.
Thousands of supporters and opponents - some saying they had been paid to show up - broke a police chain outside the security-heavy hearing for the country’s top opposition leader.
Criticizing the trial as an attempt by President Viktor Yanukovych to bar her from future elections, Tymoshenko has refused to rise when addressing the court and routinely insults the judge. She was arrested Friday for contempt of court and violation of procedures.
She is accused of abusing her powers by signing a natural gas deal with Russia in 2009 that prosecutors allege was disadvantageous to Ukraine.
Opposition activists and rights groups say Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly president is trying to sideline his political opponents and muzzle critical media in a rollback on freedoms that were championed by his pro-Western predecessor.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner urged Ukraine’s government to review Tymoshenko’s arrest and consider releasing her. “Her arrest raises questions about the application of the rule of law in Ukraine, and continues to contribute to the appearance of politically motivated prosecutions by the government,’’ Toner said.
The court has banned cameras from the trial, but some media broadcast footage of Tymoshenko in the courtroom apparently made by a cellphone.
The judge yesterday turned down three defense appeals for Tymoshenko’s release.
Surrounded by riot police, several thousand Tymoshenko supporters gathered outside the court, opposite a similar number of Yanukovych supporters, some of them waving his party’s blue-and-white flags.
After learning that the third defense appeal was turned down, the opposition crowd broke a police chain and marched down the central Kiev street shouting “Shame!’’