Ukraine Moves to Release Jailed Opposition Figure

News of the vote to release former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was met with jubilation among opposition protesters

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Just hours after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych signed a deal aimed at ending violent clashes in Kiev, the country’s newly-empowered parliament voted to release imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ukraine’s parliament wasted little time bringing Tymoshenko’s release to the docket, voting  310-54 to decriminalize the count under which she was imprisoned. The vote means that Tymoshenko is no longer guilty of a criminal offense and could be released soon after more than two years in prison, the Associated Press reports.

A hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko helped expose Yanukovych’s fraudulent victory in the presidential elections that year. She was elected prime minister in 2007 and gained fame throughout the West, both as one of few women to head an Eastern European government and for her signature crown braids. In the 2010 presidential election, Tymoshenko lost to her political rival Yanukovych in a contest she said was rigged. Relegated to the opposition, she referred to Yanukovych’s government as “the oligarchy” and questioned whether he would preserve Ukraine’s independence and self identity.

In December 2010, Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s Office charged Tymoshenko with misusing state funds while serving as prime minister. She denied the allegations and argued she was being targeted for standing up to Yanukovych, saying “The terror against the opposition continues.” After a trial that she called a “political lynching,” Tymoshenko was convicted in October 2011 of abuse of power, banned from seeking office and sentenced to seven years in prison. She lost her appeals later that year and was transferred to a penal colony in Kharkiv, where she has remained incarcerated.

Before Tymoshenko can be released, the law must be signed by the parliamentary speaker and the president, but if Yanukovych refuses to allow the release of his longtime rival, there are enough votes to override a veto. Tymoshenko has requested treatment in Germany for a back ailment, making it unlikely she will return to politics soon after being freed.