Prague - The capital of the Czech Republic is quietly becoming the base for the European campaign to release former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, currently serving a 7-year sentence in her country on corruption charges.
Yulia Tymoshenko was imprisoned after her political rival Viktor Yanukovich became the president of Ukraine. The trial was criticized by foreign politicians and international organizations as politically motivated.
Her husband Oleksandr Tymoshenko, an influential Ukrainian businessman, has been granted non-political asylum in the Czech Republic. And this appears to be only the first part of a long-term plan of the Ukrainian opposition, a plan in which the Czech capital plays a key role.
Oleksandr Tymoshenko will soon found an organization in Prague to support activities aiming at releasing her wife from prison. And to prepare her an exile center in the Czech capital.
Experts: Law is unambiguous
According to the 13th paragraph of the Czech asylum law, asylum may be granted in order to permit a family reunification, even when there are no other reasons for granting it.
And the Czech Interior Ministry confirms this interpretation. "When a close family tie and the real existence of the relation is proved, then this type of asylum (to allow a family reunification) is usually granted," said the ministry's spokeswoman Denisa Čermáková.
This way, Yulia Tymoshenko would not have to ask for political asylum, and Czech authorities would not find themselves in a politically difficult situation - because granting political asylum to Yulia Tymoshenko would doubtlessly create a crisis in the Czech-Ukrainian relations. Basically, Tymoshenko will need nothing more than her marriage certificate to get asylum in the Czech Republic.
"When the Czech authorities say 'A' in the case of Mr Tymoshenko, they cannot say 'B' in the case of his wife," said Magda Faltová, a lawyer from the Association for Integration and Migration.
Prague organization to support Yulia Tymoshenko
Prague started to emerge as the Ukrainian opposition's exile base one year ago, when Bogdan Danylyshyn, a former economy minister in the Yulia Tymoshenko government (2007-2010), was granted asylum in the Czech Republic. As other former ministers of the Tymoshenko cabinet, Danylyshyn is prosecuted in Ukraine for abuse of power.
While Mr Oleksandr Tymoshenko does not communicate with the Czech media yet, Mr Danalyshyn spoke to Insider about their plans to set free Yulia Tymoshenko.
"We want to do everything in our power to get Yulia Tymoshenko out of prison, to persuade the European Court of Human Rights that the charges against her are groundless, and to allow Yulia Tymoshenko to run for the parliamentary elections in October this year," said Danylyshyn to Insider.
"This will be the main objective of the organization Mr Tymoshenko is about to found. As a man fighting for his family, this is his main goal," Danylyshyn said, adding that the organization will have its seat in Prague.
Daughter Yevhenia to speak at European Parliament
According to Danylyshyn, the organization may be presided by the couple's daughter Yevhenia, who is becoming the main spokesperson for the Ukrainian opposition. On Thursday 26 January, she will speak at the European Parliament to lobby for her mother's freedom.
Yevhenia is the main connection between Yulia Tymoshenko and her supporters. "The daughter and the lawyer can visit Yulia Tymoshenko two times a week," said Danylyshyn.
After he came to Prague, Danylyshyn founded a civic association called the Ukrainian European Perspective (UEP). The organization's aim is to bring Ukraine closer to the EU.
"UEP will cooperate with Mr Tymoshenko. And we will mobilize all progressive social organizations in order to make the campaign to free Yulia Tymoshenko really massive," Danylyshyn explained.
But the Ukrainian government is unlikely to just stand by and watch. Only hours after Danylyshyn founded the UEP in Prague one year ago, Ukrainian authorities accused two employees of the Czech embassy in Kiev of espionage and expelled them.