Death threats against website journalist echo Georgiy Gongadze murder


Reporters Without Borders is deeply shocked by the scarcely veiled death threats against independent journalist Serhiy Lechenko * that were expressed by Vyacheslav Pikhovshek, a PR consultant who supports President Viktor Yanukovych, in an opinion piece published in the pro-government newspaper Izvestiya v Ukrayine.

Lechenko is an influential journalist who often writes about corruption for Ukrayinska Pravda, a news website founded by Georgiy Gongadze, an outspoken reporter who was murdered in September 2000.

In his article, published on 26 January, Pikhovshek claimed to be “concerned” about Lechenko’s fate, likening his position to Gongadze’s in 2000 and suggesting that he was best-placed to be the next journalist murdered in Ukraine. He went on to say that the opposition could be in favour of murdering Lechenko so that the blame could be put on the government.

 “These comments are despicable and dangerous, ” Reporters Without Borders said. “Suggesting that Lechenko could suffer the same fate as Gongadze is a barely disguised death threat, one that is particularly revolting as the people behind Gongadze’s murder have still not been brought to justice although ten years have gone by.”

The press freedom organisation added: “The comments are all the disturbing because they come from someone who is close to the government. They are a form of manipulation designed to intimidate and silence Lechenko. They also implicitly try to blame Gongadze’s murder on the opposition.”

It is also significant that Izvestiya v Ukrayine’s editor, Yanina Sokolovska, who was a ruling party election candidate, refused to publish Lechenko’s response in its entirety. She was ready to publish a version from which all criticism of the government had been removed, but Lechenko declined.

“European democratic principles provide for the right of reply, ” Lechenko responded. “The newspaper you edit published an article in which I was portrayed as a journalist who should be killed for bringing the government into disrepute. I would like you to give me the opportunity to publish in your newspaper a complete response to this article, without any censorship.”

Reporters Without Borders calls on Izvestiya v Ukrayine to have the honesty and decency to publish Lechenko’s response, and to refrain from carrying such irresponsible and violent articles as Pikhovshek’s in the future.

*  the surname of the journalist Сергій Лещенко  is more commonly transliterated as Leshchenko

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