PRAGUE/KIEV (Reuters) - The Czech Republic granted asylum to the husband of Ukraine's jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko Friday as her party said Kiev was stepping up pressure on the family.
Oleksander Tymoshenko, 51, had sought asylum in the European Union member state late last year after his wife, a former prime minister, was jailed for seven years for abuse of office.
The United States and EU denounced her prosecution as politically motivated. It has strained President Viktor Yanukovich's relations with the West.
The asylum request was confirmed by Czech officials after a report in the Czech newspaper Pravo Friday.
"The request has been dealt with positively," Interior Minister Jan Kubice said on Czech Television. He said asylum was granted Friday.
Earlier in Kiev, Tymoshenko's party issued a statement saying her family was under pressure from the government and that her husband had sought asylum abroad so her persecutors would have less leverage over her.
"This step by Oleksander Tymoshenko is in response to amoral attempts to pressure and torment Yulia Tymoshenko by persecuting her loved ones and family," Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) said.
A defence lawyer for Tymoshenko said the couple's daughter, 31-year-old Yevgenia, had no plans yet to follow her father.
The Czech Republic, part of the former Soviet bloc until the 1989 "Velvet Revolution," has a policy of supporting opposition in countries that have patchy human rights records, including Cuba and Belarus, a legacy of late President Vaclav Havel.
The asylum is the second high-profile application in the past year in the Czech Republic after it gave refuge to a Tymoshenko ally, Bohdan Danylyshyn, in early 2011.
OUT OF PUBLIC EYE
Oleksander Tymoshenko, who has kept a low profile during his wife's roller-coaster political career, is part owner of a business registered in the Czech Republic.
The son of a former communist party official, he was caught up in an investigation into gas trading corporation United Energy Systems in 2000 during Leonid Kuchma's presidency.
He was detained in early 2001 on charges of embezzlement, which were later dropped. He made rare public appearances but figured in a promotional film for his wife's 2010 presidential bid and was at her side in court when she was sentenced in October.
She was beaten narrowly by Yanukovich in a run-off vote in February 2010 after a vitriolic campaign which left them bitter enemies.
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.
Tymoshenko served as prime minister after helping to lead the 2004 "Orange Revolution" protests, which overturned an election victory for 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 is now in prison in Kharkiv some 500 km (300 miles) away from the capital.
Her defence lawyer has complained that she is being kept in "inhuman conditions" under 24-hour camera surveillance with overhead lights permanently on.
(Additional reporting by Robert Mueller and Jan Lopatka; Edited by Richard Meares)