NUJ Gongadze case update 5

7 August 2002

UK Minister promises to press for inquiry

UK Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien has pledged to step up pressure both on the Ukrainian government and in European institutions for an independent inquiry into the killing of journalist Georgy Gongadze.

O'Brien gave the commitment to Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, when they met to discuss the case on Thursday 1 August at the Foreign Office in London.

O'Brien told Dear that the UK government had asked Ukraine about the progress of investigations into the Gongadze case at a meeting between foreign ministers on 11 July. He said: "We believe there should be an international commission. We have been told by Ukraine that this is currently not possible within the framework of Ukrainian law, but we are continuing to seek a way forward."

O'Brien said that he would raise the case with the newly-appointed Ukrainian ambassador to London as soon as possible. He also agreed that the UK would weigh in behind plans for a hearing on the case during the next sitting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in September in Strasbourg.

The NUJ, which has been campaigning on the Gongadze case together with Ukrainian journalists' organisations, the International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontières, will continue to liase with foreign office officials over its progress.

O'Brien's meeting with Dear came amidst a renewed upsurge of activity over the Gongadze case in Ukraine.

On 11 July the Prosecutor General, Syatoslav Piskun, ordered a new investigation of the case, which will include a new examination of the "Tarashcha corpse", which is assumed to be Gongadze's, with the help of experts from other European countries. Piskun has also associated himself with a large reward put up by the Ukrainian NGO, the Anti-corruption Forum, for information leading to conviction of Gongadze's killers.

But opposition politicians and human rights organisations have expressed fears that Piskun will merely find a more sophisticated way of covering up the conspiracy that led to Gongadze's death.

Grigorii Omelchenko, chair of a commission set up last month by Ukrainian parliamentarians to conduct an independent investigation, wrote to Piskun saying he feared that two or three people would be found to confess to complicity in Gongadze's death, and that they would then disappear, die or commit suicide without those who ordered the killing being punished.

Piskun has said he will co-operate with the parliamentarians' commission. But he has also said that information the parliamentarians collected abroad - which could include the crucial "Melnychenko tapes" made by a former presidential bodyguard, that point to Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma's complicity in the killing - would be deemed inadmissible.

Piskun's predecessor, Mykhailo Potebenko - who along with the Ukrainian president and other officials has been sued by Gongadze's mother, Lesia, for neglect, complicity, and other charges - has now entered the Ukrainian parliament. As a deputy he is immune from prosecution.

On 2 August, Miroslava Gongadze, the murdered journalist's widow, lodged a further case against the general prosecutor for breaching her rights in the course of the investigation.

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