WASHINGTON, DC -- The United States this week denounced Ukraine for stripping a lawyer of his seat in parliament because he serves as a defense attorney for Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is dubiously imprisoned for malfeasance in office and now also facing murder charges.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell issued a statement scathing in its diplomatic language after a court expelled Serhiy Vlasenko from the legislature, revoked his parliamentary immunity from prosecution and banned him from traveling outside Ukraine.
“These actions appear to be politically motivated due to his connection to Mrs. Tymosenko,” Mr. Ventrell said.
He noted that Washington is “deeply concerned” by the actions of the pro-Russian Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Mr. Ventrell also criticized a Ukrainian court for “extra-judicial” actions that nullified the elections of two independent members of parliament, Pavlo Blaloha and Oleksandr Dombrovsky.
“These actions create an atmosphere that inhibits political competition and freedom of expression,” Mr. Ventrell said.
“We call on the Ukrainian authorities to end politically motivated prosecutions of opposition leaders and to abide by their international commitments to the rule of law and democracy.”
In Ukraine, one of the nation’s highest courts ruled that Mr. Vlasenko violated the rules of office by practicing law while also serving in parliament.
The ruling by the High Administrative Court opens Mr. Vlasenko to possible prosecution from Mr. Yanukovych’s cronies in the Justice Ministry.
Mr. Vlasenko denounced the action as political punishment because he is representing Mrs. Tymoshenko.
He also denied violating the rules of office because he is serving as her attorney for free.
Mrs. Tymoshenko, a pro-Western political opponent of Mr. Yanukovych, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 on charges that she abused her powers as prime minister by signing an energy deal with Russia, which provides Ukraine with natural gas.
The United States and European Union have condemned the prosecution of Mrs. Tymoshenko as a human rights violation.
Last month, prosecutor accused Mrs. Tymoshenko of involvement in the 1996 murder of Ukrainian businessman Evhen Shcherban.
Prosecutors suspect he was killed in a dispute over control of Ukraine’s natural gas industry.
European authorities were baffled by the latest charge, especially since the EU already was demanding Mrs. Tymoshenko’s release from prison.
“The new case against Tymoshenko is a political disaster” for Ukraine, said Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former president of Poland who now serves with the European Court of Human Rights.