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
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
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 email@example.com or
on (00 33) 1 44 83 84 8 4.