Joint Statement on Tenth Anniversary of Gyorgy Gongadze’s Death
On 16 September, journalists in Ukraine and around the world will mark the tenth anniversary of the murder of our colleague Gyorgy Gongadze. On this occasion we once again call on the Ukrainian authorities seriously to investigate those who ordered the killing.
The importance of bringing to justice those who instigated Gongadze’s killing has been tragically underlined by the disappearance, and feared murder, of Vasily Klimentyev, the investigative reporter and editor, in Kharkiv on 11 August.
The Gongadze case has come to epitomise the impunity with which politicians and other powerful people conspire to silence journalists. It is common knowledge that former president Leonid Kuchma, current parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and others, discussed harming Gongadze, and that a few days later he was dead. But, ten years later, none of the participants in those conversations nor any of those who organised the killing have been held to account in court.
The lamentable failure of justice in the Gongadze case has certainly encouraged other politicians and officials who have threatened, bullied and intimidated journalists. It may have encouraged whoever is responsible for Vasily Klimentyev’s disappearance. The chances of being punished for terrorising journalists remain too low.
The investigation of the Gongadze case has not moved forward significantly since the arrest on 21 July last year of Olexiy Pukach, the former internal affairs ministry general and the main suspect in the murder.
This week, more than a year after Pukach’s arrest, and on the eve of the tenth anniversary of Gongadze’s death, it has been reported that the prosecutor has included in the case against Pukach the claim that Pukach acted under the personal orders of the late internal affairs minister Yurii Kravchenko. Kravchenko died in March 2005, supposedly by suicide. This information raises more questions than it answers. Can it credibly be claimed that no-one else within the internal affairs ministry was involved? What relationship did the Gongadze case bear to other illegal activities by groups within the internal affairs ministry at the time? On whose authority and with whose knowledge did Kravchenko give such orders? Does this information not necessitate a re-examination of the extremely strange circumstances of Kravchenko’s own death?
The general prosecutor’s office has avoided tackling any such questions for many years. Even before Pukach’s arrest, questions about the instigators of the crime that clearly arise from information long available publicly have not been investigated. Specific issues raised in that regard - by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, by ourselves, and by our Ukrainian colleagues - have been almost completely ignored.
Most obviously, major Mykola Melnychenko, who tape-recorded the incriminating conversations about Gongadze in Kuchma’s office, has never been formally questioned, which is necessary in order for the recordings to be used as evidence. Within a few weeks, he will be protected by the statute of limitations and this chance will be lost.
Over the last ten years, we have warned repeatedly that the refusal to pursue the Gongadze case vigorously, and the way that senior politicians of various parties have obstructed and sabotaged the investigation, would encourage other officials to act with impunity against journalists. We fear that the disappearance of Vasily Klimentyev may be one of the outcomes.
Internal affairs minister Vasily Mogilev has stated that current and former law enforcement officers are under suspicion in the Klimentyev case. The impunity with which those who instigated Gongadze’s killing acted can only have encouraged them.
On this anniversary of Gyorgy’s tragic death, we once again call:
-- On the Ukrainian authorities to review and renew the investigation into those who ordered the killing, and to ensure that they are brought to justice;
-- On the Ukrainian authorities to instigate criminal proceedings against senior officials who have deliberately obstructed the investigation;
-- On governments and civil society across Europe to continue the fight against impunity for those in positions of power who sanction and organise violence against journalists.
Aidan White, General Secretary, International Federation of Journalists
Myroslava Gongadze, The Gongadze Foundation
Jeremy Dear, National Union of Journalists of UK and Ireland
Alla Lazareva, Institute of Mass Information