KIEV - Ukraine's jailed opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, is being held in a prison cell under 24-hour camera surveillance with the lights permanently on in an attempt to "psychologically and physically break" her, her defence counsel said on Tuesday.
Officials at the prison camp in the eastern town of Kharkiv, to where Tymoshenko, 51, a former prime minister, was abruptly moved on December 30 confirmed conditions of her detention. But they said these were necessary for the security of inmates.
"Video surveillance is not forbidden by law. In order to carry out permanent video monitoring there has to be sufficient light in the cells," Ivan Pervushkin, head of the prison, told journalists in televised comments.
But her defence lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, deplored the "inhuman conditions."
"The light is directed straight onto the bed where she is lying ... Camera surveillance and light in the face and the impossibility of sleeping properly and the absence of medical help -- all this has one aim only: to psychologically and physically break Yulia Volodymyrivna," he told journalists.
The charismatic Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in jail for abuse of office after what the United States and the European Union denounced as a politically-motivated trial.
Her case has seriously strained relations between President Viktor Yanukovich's government and the West.
The EU, which had planned to 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.
But Yanukovich has shown no signs of relenting in the case and helping to secure her release. Indeed, investigators are preparing a raft of other criminal charges against her.
Tymoshenko and Yanukovich are bitter enemies.
She 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.
But in a comeback he narrowly beat her in a presidential run-off in February 2010 after a vitriolic campaign.
She has denied exceeding her powers when forcing through a 2009 gas deal with Russia as prime minister and says she was the victim of a "lynching" at her trial on that charge for which she was jailed.
Tymoshenko was moved just before the turn of the year to the Kharkiv prison about 500 km (300 miles) away from the capital Kiev where she had been in a prison detention centre.
Vlasenko poured scorn on assertions by the prison service that 24-hour surveillance was for her own security. "This is being done to carry out an order by Yanukovich to humiliate the leader of the Ukrainian opposition," he said.
Tymoshenko has been suffering from back pains in the last few weeks and has difficulty walking, according to her lawyers, who opposed her move from Kiev.
Prison officials say she is receiving adequate treatment in line with recommendations from doctors who examined her in late December.