NUJ Gongadze case update 7

16 September 2002

Ambassador promises investigation

Ukraine's charge d'affaires in the UK, Ihor Prokopchuk, today promised journalists that his government would make sure the killing of Gyorgy Gongadze was properly investigated.

A delegation from the National Union of Journalists of UK and Ireland, headed by its general secretary Jeremy Dear, met with Prokopchuk on the second anniversary of investigative reporter Gongadze's death.

Journalists, both British and Ukrainian, demonstrated outside the Ukrainian embassy in London to coincide with events marking the anniversary in Kyiv, and other European and American cities.

Prokopchuk told the NUJ delegation that a fresh inquiry into Gongadze's death launched by Ukraine's new general prosecutor, Svyatoslav Piskun, would accept as evidence audio tapes released by major Mykola Melnychenko, a former bodyguard of Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma.

One of the tapes records voices, apparently those of Kuchma and other senior ministers, conspiring to harm Gongadze.

But Prokopchuk threw doubt on whether the government would work with the independent international inquiry into Gongadze's death that is being demanded by the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly and journalists' organisations.

He said there was no provision under Ukrainian law or international treaty obligations for the independent international inquiry. He would not comment on calls for the law to be amended to make the inquiry possible, although he said Ukrainian law enforcement agencies wanted to collaborate with foreign police forces on the case where possible under law.

Prokopchuk acknowledged that the integrity of previous investigations into Gongadze's murder had been questioned both inside and outside Ukraine.

"The issue is at the top of our agenda, too. Gyorgy Gongadze is remembered by our people." Piskun is "re-energising the investigation", he said.

Piskun's investigation has taken on an open flavour that contrasts sharply with previous official attitudes to the case. At a press conference in Kyiv on Saturday he said that Gongadze's murder was "political, and carried out on someone's orders". It had been "organised by specialists", he said.

A Ukrainian parliamentary ad-hoc commission on the Gongadze case is piling pressure on Piskun. Earlier this month its chairman Hryhoriy Omelchenko called on president Kuchma to resign, and said that the commission believed that Piskun should charge Kuchma, along parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, former security policy chief Leonid Derkach and former interior minister Yury Kravchenko for involvement in Gongadze's murder.

After today's meeting with Prokopchuk, NUJ leader Dear addressed a crowd of campaigners who picketed the embassy with placards saying "Remember Gyorgy Gongadze: defend press freedom". He said the union would "continue to mobilise and campaign" on the case. "Institutions are moving because people are protesting. Let's step up the pressure," he said.

The only small cloud on a sunny morning was an overzealous officer from the diplomatic protection squad who rushed up to the peaceful demonstrators and demanded that they move across the road from the Ukrainian embassy - which they did, after an argument and a photo session.

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