Remember Gyorgy Gongadze 16 September 2003

Reporters Sans Frontières statement

Murder of Ukrainian journalist unsolved after three years

Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders - RSF) has deplored the failure of the Ukrainian authorities to solve the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze, who disappeared three years ago on 16 September 2000. His headless body was found on 2 November the same year.

"After three years of investigation and despite your repeated announcements that the case was about to be resolved, no significant evidence has been produced to explain why he was murdered and his killers are still at large," said RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Ukrainian prosecutor-general Sviatoslav Piskun.

Gongadze, who was 31, was the editor of the online newspaper www.pravda.com.ua that was strongly critical of the government of President Leonid Kuchma.

"We are still waiting for those who were responsible, at all levels, to be named and punished. We will not be satisfied with just charging those who carried out the dreadful crime," said Ménard.

The murder enquiry has made no real progress this year. Court officials in Tarashcha, near Kiev where Gongadze's body was found, were convicted of forging documents, negligence and abuse of authority, but were amnestied and freed in April and May this year.

A key witness, former police detective Igor Goncharov, died in prison on 1 August in mysterious circumstances and his body was cremated three days later. He had been arrested in May 2002 for alleged involvement in killings by a group of thugs and former policemen. He refused several times to give evidence to the prosecutor, saying he was afraid of being killed in prison if he did.

In a letter he wrote, obtained by the Ukrainian Institute of Mass Information (IMI) and certified as genuine by the prosecutor-general's office, he spoke of the crimes he had been jailed for, including the Gongadze murder.

He said they had been carried out on the orders of the then interior minister, Yuri Kravchenko, and his successor, Yuri Smirnov. He said top government officials, including President Kuchma, were aware of and involved in the kidnappings and murders. Kravchenko is now head of the national taxation department and Smirnov is a presidential adviser.

An opposition politician disclosed in November 2000 that a tape-recording had been made by a security official, Mykola Melnichenko, of a meeting in Kuchma's office in which someone, apparently Kravchenko, is heard to say that he has people who can get rid of Gongadze, "really tough guys, ready to do whatever you ask."

"We ask you to consider and check out all the statements made in the letters of the late Igor Goncharov, as well as the conclusions of the parliamentary investigation into the murder and the recordings made by Mykola Melnichenko," Ménard said.

Gongadze, who was a staunch defender of press freedom, had been particularly outspoken during the 1999 presidential election campaign when he and four other journalists questioned Kuchma during a debate on the national TV station 1 + 1. He openly accused Kravchenko of corruption and undermining civil liberties, especially press freedom.

When Gongadze went to the United States, from December 1999 to January 2000, a few days before an official visit by President Kuchma, he met State Department and Congressional officials, the media and the large Ukrainian diaspora. He distributed a statement signed by 60 Ukrainian journalists criticising curbs on press freedom in Ukraine and held a press conference about it. He was also actively involved in opposing an April 2000 referendum to boost presidential powers.

In the months before he vanished, Gongadze was spied on by the state militia and followed by strangers in a car with militia number-plates. He said he was frightened and had complained of "deliberate provocation to intimidate me or at least stop me doing my job as a journalist", in an open letter on 14 July 2000 to prosecutor-general Mikhailo Potebenko.

An RSF fact-finding mission in January 2001 detailed the very serious legal mistakes made in the case. It concluded that prosecutor-general Potebenko, who was elected to parliament in March 2001, conducted the enquiry with the primary aim of protecting the government from serious accusation.

Gongadze's widow Myroslava and his mother Lessia have been systematically excluded from the enquiry and until January 2001 were refused the right to be civil parties in the case. Myroslava filed a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights against the Ukrainian government on 16 September last year.

From Veronica Forwood of RSF-UK. Tel: 0207 278 2313. For more information please contact Soria Blattman at europe@rsf.org or on (00 33) 1 44 83 84 8 4.

 
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