The husband of Ukraine’s jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has asked for asylum in the Czech Republic, the Czech foreign minister said on Friday..
Former prime minister Ms. Tymoshenko was sentenced in October to seven years in prison for abuse of office in what the United States and the European Union denounced as a politically-motivated trial.
The prosecution of Ms. Tymoshenko and her former team has strained relations between Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s government and the West.
The asylum request from her husband, Oleksander Tymoshenko, will be the second high-profile application in the past year in the Czech Republic, an EU member, after it gave refuge to a Tymoshenko ally a year ago.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told Czech Radio that he learned of the asylum request from Interior Minister Jan Kubice on Wednesday at a regular government meeting.
“During a break in the government meeting I asked the interior minister whether this was true ... and he said yes,” Mr. Schwarzenberg said.
A government source told Reuters that the request was made at the end of last year. “There has been no decision yet,” the source said.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which handles asylum cases, declined to comment.
The Czech Republic has a policy of supporting opposition in countries that have patchy human rights records, a legacy of former president Vaclav Havel.
Last year, the Czech Republic granted asylum to Bohdan Danylyshyn, a former economy minister in Ms. Tymoshenko’s cabinet wanted in Ukraine for suspected abuse of office.
Ukraine expelled two Czech diplomats and the Czechs retaliated later in the year, straining relations.
Oleksander Tymoshenko is part owner of a business registered in the Czech Republic.
Yulia Tymoshenko’s case has seriously strained relations between President Viktor Yanukovich’s government and the West.
The EU, which had planned initial agreements on political association and free trade with Ukraine at a summit in December, put off the signing and cited Tymoshenko’s case as an example of selective justice in the former Soviet republic.
Ms. Tymoshenko served as prime minister after helping to lead the 2004 “Orange Revolution” protests, which overturned an election victory for Mr. Yanukovich in his first bid for the presidency and which, for a while, cast him adrift politically.
She has denied exceeding her powers when forcing through a 2009 gas deal with Russia as prime minister. The 51-year-old has recently been moved to a prison cell under 24-hour camera surveillance.