German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Union Justice Commissioner Vivianne Reding, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, German President Joachim Gauck, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, Czech President Václav Klaus, UK Sports Minister Hugh Robertson: the list of politicians indicating they will boycott the impending Euro 2012 football tournament has been growing daily since photos of bruises on the body of imprisoned former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko emerged last week.
Ukraine, along with Poland, is due to host the championship between 8 June and 1 July but preparations for the event – a first in either country’s history – are colliding with increasing irritation in the EU and US over Ukraine’s handling of its high-profile detainee.
Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment last October for abuse of power over a gas deal with Russia during her prime ministership in 2009. The ruling, decried by the domestic opposition and in the West as a politically motivated revenge by current president Viktor Yanukovich, caused a serious cooling in relations with the EU, with which Ukraine was due to sign a free-trade agreement, and with the US.
Ukraine has since launched new procedures against Tymoshenko and her former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko for tax evasion and embezzlement, but it is concern over her health and safety that is prompting the fresh wave of public outcry.
Reportedly confined to bed with a herniated spinal disc in a cell in the eastern town of Kharkiv, Tymoshenko has been calling for medical treatment abroad, with Germany saying it is ready to receive her after doctors from a Berlin hospital declared her to be in urgent need of specialised treatment. The 51-year-old was instead moved to a clinic in Kharkiv, where she refused treatment – apparently in fear of poisoning – before starting a hunger strike last week.
Supporters then published photos of Tymoshenko displaying bruises on her arms and stomach, which she said are the result of violent treatment while being transferred to the clinic on 20 April. Ukrainian prosecutors say the marks may have been caused by her knocking against “blunt objects” during her transfer.
Several European leaders have since cancelled visits to Ukraine to protest over the human-rights situation there, in a sign of increasing pressure on the isolated country. Germany has put an EU-Ukraine political and trade deal on hold “so long as the rule of law in Ukraine does not develop in the right direction”, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle announced on Thursday.
The presidents of Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Slovenia have said they will not attend a summit of Central and East European leaders next week in the south Ukrainian city of Yalta. Ukraine has called the move a return to “Cold War tactics”, with foreign ministry spokesman Oleh Voloshin warning against making sports “a hostage of politics”.
Co-host Poland has also spoken against a boycott. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, while noting that the country is pressing Ukraine to improve its human-rights record, expressed Poland’s “well-grounded fears” that boycotting Ukraine might result in the former Soviet state “choosing a political route alternative to the process of European integration” and forging closer ties with Russia.