By Gilbert Reilhac
STRASBOURG (Reuters) - Lawyers for Ukraine's ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko denounced what they called the inhumane conditions of her detention before the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday, saying her 2011 arrest was intended to bar her from elections.
The 51-year-old Tymoshenko, who rose to international fame as the figurehead of the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution, had been kept in permanently lit, unheated cells and tracked by surveillance cameras, her lawyers said.
"She asked me to ask you for help," lawyer Serhiy Vlasenko told the Strasbourg court.
"There is no fair legal system in Ukraine and you are the only ones who can help Madame Tymoshenko."
Tymoshenko's seven-year sentence for abuse of office - related to her brokering a disadvantageous gas deal with Russia in 2009 - drew condemnation from Western governments, which accuse Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich of waging a personal vendetta against his arch-rival.
The court in Strasbourg is considering only the legality of her pre-trial detention and the conditions under which she was held. A ruling could take months.
A Ukrainian high court, meanwhile, is expected on Wednesday to rule on Tymoshenko's appeal against her conviction. Analysts do not expect the court to free her, complicating ties with the West as the former Soviet republic approaches an October 28 legislative election.
Critics say the exclusion of Tymoshenko - the country's most significant opposition figure - means the election can be neither free nor fair.
"The only reason for her detention was to exclude her from Ukrainian political life and to prevent her from participating in October 28, 2012 parliamentary elections," Vlasenko said.
Yanukovich narrowly beat Tymoshenko for the presidency in 2010. She had been the key figure in the Orange Revolution, the popular uprising that upset his first bid for the presidency.
Tymoshenko is now in a Ukrainian state-run clinic receiving treatment for back trouble following an intervention by the Strasbourg body.
A lawyer for the Ukrainian government, Nasar Kulchytskyy, denied the allegations of political maneuvering and said Tymoshenko had not been poorly treated.
"The petitioner refused exams and treatments due to her distrust of the state authorities," Kulchytskyy told the court.
Before Tuesday's hearing, Tymoshenko's daughter Yevgenia told reporters she and her mother looked to the European human rights court "for justice".
"In Ukrainian courts, this does not exist. All the judges in Ukraine are now under the full control of the Yanukovich regime which is trying to destroy my mother," she said.
Defence lawyers would have to exhaust the appeals process in Ukraine before bringing a case over Tymoshenko's conviction to the human rights court, which is under the aegis of the Council of Europe.
The court's rulings cannot be appealed and signatories must comply or face exclusion from the Council of Europe. A committee is charged with ensuring members' laws are amended to reflect rulings but delays are common.
Last month, the same court condemned Ukraine for its 2010 pre-trial detention of Yuri Lutsenko, a former interior minister under Tymoshenko, and ordered Ukraine to pay 15,000 euros to the opposition politician. The court did not rule on the legitimacy of his conviction but called his detention arbitrary.
(Writing by Alexandria Sage; editing by Andrew Roche)