December 2006

Update on the Gongadze case

For journalists’ unions, press freedom organisations and all supporters of the campaign

Summary

Extra information is coming to light during legal proceedings about the context of the murder of Gyorgy Gongadze, and in particular about the "dirty tricks" squads that operated in the interior ministry. But the tide in the Ukrainian establishment is running as forcefully as ever against any resolution of the case. The Ukrainian justice ministry has recently dropped an investigation, launched at the European Court's request, of the failure of the investigation of the case.

In terms of campaigning, we i.e. the IFJ, National Union of Journalists of the UK and Ireland, the Gongadze Foundation and the Institute of Mass Information in Kiev, who have coordinated efforts on the case will meet with the Council of Europe's rapporteur on the case, Sabine Leutheuser- Schnarrenberger. We will, if necessary, draft a further report next year, updating our two earlier reports that monitored the investigation and focused on the issue of impunity. We also hope to arrange activities around the seventh anniversary of Gyorgy's murder, on 16 September 2007.

Investigation into the failed investigation dropped by Ukrainian justice ministry

The Council of Europe asked the Yushchenko administration to follow up issues about the Gongadze case raised by the European Court of Human Rights, which in November 2005 expressed "serious doubts" about the authorities' commitment to investigating the case thoroughly, and ruled that the authorities had been "more preoccupied with proving the lack of involvement of high-level state officials than by discovering the truth" about Gongadze's disappearance and death.

The justice ministry last month wrote to Myroslava Gongadze to say that the investigation of the issues raised by the European Court ruling had been closed. In other words, there was no response to the European Court's criticism of the authorities.

Trial of three former police officers

The trial in Kiev of three former interior ministry officers Valery Kostenko, Mykola Protasov and Alexander Popovych for murder, and abuse of office, continues. These three people have admitted to being present when Gongadze was killed; they say the murder was actually committed by a Oleksiy Pukach, a former senior officer, who disappeared from Ukraine last year. Valentina Telichenko, lawyer for Myroslava Gongadze, attends all sessions of the trial.

We understand that the judge, Irina Grigorieva, is doing her best under the circumstances to maintain standards of justice. On the other hand, our colleagues in Ukraine are extremely critical of the conduct of the case by the general prosecutor's office; there have been staff changes there and some officers who were working hard to push the case forward have moved to other jobs or left the service.

We are very concerned at the strong public criticism of the judge, especially by Aleksandr Moroz, speaker of parliament (a politician who, under Kuchma, played an important role in bringing the connection between Kuchma and the Gongadze case to light). Our colleagues in Ukraine believe that this reflects the general lack of will at the top of the Ukrainian establishment for the case to be resolved.

The trial is expected to continue until the end of 2007 at the earliest.

Trials of some of ‘Kravchenko's eagles’, and of those who assaulted Aleksei Podol'skii

Two other related trials are in progress in Kiev. One is the "trial of the turncoats", in which 11 former interior ministry officers are in trial in relation to the various dirty tricks (assassinations, beatings, robberies etc) carried out by squads operating illegally within the interior ministry under former president Kuchma and former interior minister Kravchenko.

The other trial is of former interior ministry officers accused of assaulting another journalist, Aleksei Podol'skii. On 9 June 2000, three months before Gongadze's murder, Podol'skii was taken to a remote area outside Kiev and very badly beaten up by officers from the same corps as those who participated in the attack on Gongadze. Ms Telichenko also represents Podol'skii, and attends this trial.

A great deal of information is now emerging in these trials, and being reported in the Ukrainian media, about the system of punishment squads that operated under president Kuchma. All the evidence points to Gongadze having been murdered by such a squad. This makes it possible for us to know much more about the context of the case.

New information about Melnichenko and his tapes

Information, not all of it trustworthy, has come into the public domain about major Melnichenko, the Kuchma bodyguard who made the tape that triggered much of the public anger about the Gongadze case. Melnichenko himself now says, as many have long assumed, that he worked together with others to make the tape.

In March, Ukrainska Pravda published an article stating that Melnichenko had been working in concert with Aleksandr Moroz (then, Socialist party leader who first spoke of the tape's existence in the Ukrainian parliament, now speaker of parliament), and Yevhen Marchuk (former senior KGB officer, prime minister and defence minister) (see reference below). This resulted in a libel action by Moroz against Ukrainska Pravda, which is still being contested.

Melnichenko's inconsistent statements, and his decision not to take chances that were open to him to testify in a Ukrainian court, have caused problems. This is a complicating factor for our campaign.

Forthcoming Council of Europe report

The Council of Europe rapporteur on the Gongadze case, Sabine Leutheuser-Schnarrenberger, the former justice minister of Germany, is continuing her work on the case. She visited Ukraine in June. Her brief was last year widened to include consideration of some attacks on politicians and other criminal activities carried out by state bodies under president Kuchma. She intends to keep her inquiry going until June next year, at which point under Council of Europe procedures she has to submit her report. We have a good relationship with Ms Leutheuser-Shnarrenberger's team and they continue to welcome our input and collaboration.

Our campaign

There are three obvious avenues we can follow:

  1. Keep in close touch with the ongoing Council of Europe investigation. We hope to meet with Ms Leutheuser-Schnarrenberger during the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in January.
  2. Decide whether we need to prepare a further report from the IFJ, NUJ, Gongadze foundation and IMI, updating our earlier material. We welcome people's views on this.
  3. Consider some activities around the seventh anniversary of the killing in September 2007. We welcome views on this also.
 
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