NUJ press statement

August 14 2003

NUJ slams Council of Europe over Ukraine report

UK journalists' union leader Jeremy Dear has denounced the "shameful failure" of the Council of Europe over the case of Gyorgy Gongadze, the Ukrainian reporter murdered in September 2000.

Dear called on journalists and human rights campaigners across Europe to redouble calls on the EU, the Council of Europe and other institutions - as well as the Ukrainian government - to ensure there is a full independent, international inquiry into the case. There will be a day of action on the third anniversary of Gongadze's death, Tuesday 16 September.

Dear criticised as "pitifully inadequate" a report on the Gongadze case by a senior official of the Council of Europe, which has a remit covering human rights issues on a European level.

Hans-Christian Kruger, special adviser to the CoE general secretary Walter Schwimmer, undertook an inquiry into the legal and judicial aspects of the Gongadze case at the request of the bureau of the parliamentary assembly of the CoE.

After visiting Kyiv, Kruger reported back to the bureau, strongly praising the Ukrainian general prosecutor, Sviatoslav Piskun, for "sincere" efforts to give the investigation a new impetus. The parliamentary assembly's bureau noted the report and agreed "to follow closely further developments in this case".

Kruger's report has been greeted with anger and disbelief by Ukrainian journalists and parliamentarians who have repeatedly complained about the failings of the general prosecutor's investigation.

Controversy exploded again last month when a key witness in the Gongadze case died in police custody. And for more than two years prior to that, the prosecutor has been widely condemned for failing to follow the line of inquiry pointed to by tapes made by a former presidential bodyguard, Mykola Melnichenko, which appear to indicate that the president conspired to harm Gongadze in the weeks before he was murdered.

Jeremy Dear said: "The Gongadze case is a touchstone for press freedom in Europe. There is prima facie evidence that the head of state may have conspired to harm Gongadze shortly before his death. The general prosecutor's investigation has never dealt with this issue. Until it is dealt with, dictators and bullies everywhere will believe they have impunity to use violence to shut up journalists who write things they do not like.

"As an institution claiming to uphold human rights in Europe, the Council of Europe has a crucial responsibility to ensure that justice is done in this case. Mr Kruger has closed his eyes to the wealth of deficiencies in the general prosecutor's investigation. The danger is that the Council of Europe will effectively become a shield for serious breaches of human rights in Ukraine."

Dear added that the death in police custody on 1 August of Igor Goncharov, a key witness in the Gongadze case, was cause for "serious concern" about the Ukrainian authorities' attitude to the case. "This dramatically demonstrates the parlous state of Ukrainian justice - and underlines how misplaced is the confidence in it expressed in Mr Kruger's report.

"Here is a warning to journalists all over Europe. One of our colleagues has been killed, probably at the behest of powerful people who disliked what he wrote. The Ukrainian authorities have dismally failed to investigate the case. And now a European institution that is supposed to act as a guardian of human rights has shamefully failed to rise to the challenge.

"No EU government can be neutral on this issue, and nor can the EU itself. As a result of EU enlargement, Ukraine is our neighbour. Here in the UK the NUJ has received assurances from the government that it will continue to insist on a proper resolution of the Gongadze case - a full, transparent investigation - in its dealings with Ukraine.

"We urge all European governments and institutions to do the same. And we invite all our colleagues across Europe to join us in making this point on 16 September, the third anniversary of Gyorgy Gongadze's death."


Notes

Gyorgy Gongadze, editor of the internet newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, was kidnapped on 16 September 2000. Some days later his headless body was found in a ditch at Tarashcha outside Kyiv. Forensic investigations suggested he had most probably been killed a few hours after disappearing.

The National Union of Journalists of the UK and Ireland, one of the largest European journalists' unions, has been campaigning, along with the International Federation of Journalists and a range of media freedom campaigning groups, for an independent international inquiry into the case. Details of the campaign may be found at www.londonfreelance.org/gongadze.

For about the last year, Hryhory Omelchenko, head of the Ukrainian parliamentary commission on the Gongadze case, has claimed that death squads formed within the interior ministry, known as "Kravchenko's Eagles" joined with criminal gangs to form death squads to kill opposition politicians, journalists and others. Mr Omelchenko and other human rights campaigners in Ukraine believe that such a gang may have killed Gongadze.

A key witness in the Gongadze case, Igor Goncharov, a former senior officer in interior ministry forces, was preparing to give testimony to the general prosecutor about the way in which these squads worked. Goncharov was himself facing trial for leading a gang of former officers who committed 11 murders.

On 1 August Goncharov died in police custody. He had left with journalists and others a series of letters to be opened after his death, stating that he intended to give evidence on "a number of crimes planned and committed by officials of the interior ministry and the organised crime directorate in Kyiv", including the murder of Gongadze; that he was being put under "psychological pressure" by the Kyiv police; and that he did "not trust" the prosecutor's office investigators.

For more details contact Jeremy Dear or Tim Gopsill on
(44)(0) 20 7278 7916

 
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