Whistleblower vows justice

THE MAN who produced the tapes that appear to implicate Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma in the killing of journalist Gyorgy Gongadze appeared at his second-ever public meeting on Monday 17 February - at NUJ HQ. There Mykola Melnichenko vowed to bring the "criminals" exposed in his tape recordings to be judged in a court of law.

He said that together with Myroslava Gongadze, the widow of murdered journalist Gyorgy Gongadze, and former parliamentary deputy Aleksandr Eliashkevich, he had decided to start legal proceedings in the US against those suspected of organising the killing of Gyorgy Gongadze.

The former presidential bodyguard told a packed public meeting - at which Elishkevich also spoke - that president Leonid Kuchma's time is coming to an end, and that "the only question about him is when he will be brought to justice".

Melnichenko told the meeting that "those who helped Kuchma" must also be brought to justice. He named parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Litvin, former security services chief Sergei Derkach and tax administration chief Yury Kravchenko.

The audience of 50 - which included journalists, academics, Foreign Office officials, free speech campaigners, students and members of Ukrainian community organisations - questioned the speakers for nearly an hour after their opening statements. Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovskii gave a ringing endorsement from the platform.

Asked from the audience why he had not made public all the tape recordings he made in Kuchma's office, Melnichenko said he would only produce all the tapes in a court of law. He was afraid that if he made everything on the tapes public, material evidence could be destroyed and witnesses silenced.

He added that he is "very afraid of giving access to the tapes" to people who would use them for their own political or other interests. In addition, he said, a very small proportion of the material concerned matters of national security. "We need to begin the legal process. Each question should be dealt with in the courts," he said.

Tony Geraghty of the UK Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom asked Melnichenko why he had decided to expose Kuchma. He replied: "You would have done the same in my place." Most people, had they witnessed the lying and criminality he had seen, would want to expose it.

One of a group of young Ukrainians at the meeting told Melnichenko that his actions had been a "spark" that had encouraged people to fight actively for democracy in Ukraine.

Elishkevich told the meeting that an analysis of the Melnichenko tapes showed that Kuchma had not been a criminal when he first became president. Once he had sensed that he was "unpunishable", he deteriorated.

The draft law giving immunity to former presidents would perpetuate their feeling of invincibility, Elishkevich warned. He challenged Viktor Yushchenko and other politicians who had supported the law. If it was passed, the legal action being mounted in the US would be directed against Ukraine as a state, rather than against individuals.

Vladimir Bukovskii, who spent 12 years in Soviet prison camps and psychiatric hospitals under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, told the meeting that the Melnichenko tapes provided an "unique opportunity to look into the structure of the post-Soviet states and the catalogue of crimes committed from presidential offices".

Russia, Ukraine and other post-Soviet states are ruled by "a criminal clique, a merger of the underworld, security services and so-called business", which had become "completely uncontrollable".

Bukovskii, who has lived in England since being dramatically expelled from the USSR in 1976, and spoke in English, said that while in Soviet times dissidents could rely on support from the West, "in post-Soviet times the West has decided that democracy has prevailed, and no such support need be given".

The danger had increased now that post-Soviet states "have become allies in the 'war against terror'", Bukovskii warned. Under agreements now in place, Russian dissidents who flee to the West could find themselves being repatriated and imprisoned in jails in which Russia's own human rights ombudsman has admitted that torture is "endemic". The case of Ahmed Zakaev, who had been rearrested in the UK after being cleared of all charges by Denmark, was indicative.

Melnichenko introduced to the meeting "a close friend", the former Russian FSB colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko, who had had "a similar fate".

Litvinenko publicly denounced illegal terrorist acts, abductions and contract killings carried out by the Russian security services at a press conference in Moscow in 1999, and after leaving Russia the following year was given political asylum in the UK.

He said many of the former Soviet states were ruled by "criminals who fear only one thing - journalists who write the truth about them". He welcomed the mobilisation of Western public opinion behind the Gongadze case as a key to establishing civil society in the former USSR.

Tim Gopsill of the NUJ said that the union, which has been demanding an international inquiry into the Gongadze case, was pleased to host the press conference as part of its commitment to supporting press freedom and to ensuring justice was achieved for our murdered colleague.

Last modified: 24 Feb 2003 - © 2003 contributors
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