Last week, campaigners in the UK marked the tenth anniversary of the abduction and be-heading of Ukrainian internet journalist Gyorgy Gongadze this week by demanding answers about the investigation into his death. A delegation from the National Union of Journalists visited the Ukrainian embassy in London on 16 September.The NUJ has been at the forefront of the international campaign to bring the instigators of Gongadze’s murder to justice, and supported the founding of an independent trade union for Ukrainian media workers.
The importance of the campaign to bring those who ordered Gongadze’s killing to justice was grimly underlined in recent weeks by the disappearance, and feared murder, of investigative reporter Vasily Klimentyev in Kharkov, Ukraine, on 11August.
Simon Pirani, an NUJ activist who specialises in covering the former Soviet Union, said: “The Gongadze case is a classic example of the impunity of powerful people who instigate violence against journalists.
“The instigators of Gongadze’s murder were at the very top of the Ukrainian political pyramid. Former president Leonid Kuchma, current parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and some of their cronies discussed harming him – shortly before he was kidnapped, beaten, strangled and beheaded by a gang of policemen.
“The gang leader, Aleksei Pukach, is now awaiting trial, and three of his accomplices are serving prison sentences – but the instigators of the crime have never been brought to justice.
“The conversations in Kuchma’s office about harming Gongadze are known to the world, because Mykola Melnychenko, a former presidential bodyguard, released tape recordings of them two months after the murder.”
Recently it has been reported that chief suspect Pukach claims he was ordered by internal affairs minister Yuri Kravchenko to kill Gongadze.
Kravchenko is alleged to have shot himself – twice – in March 2005.
Simon said: “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?”
In the ten years since Gongadze’s murder, Ukrainian media has grown to operate relatively freely – particularly on the internet, where Ukrainska Pravda, the site he founded, is leader among many high-quality news sites. Even TV has a greater variety of reporting than in Russia.
But the disappearance nearly three weeks ago of Vasily Klimentyev, 67, editor of Novy Stil (New Style), a muckraking local paper in Kharkov, is a sober reminder of the dangers facing journalists who try to expose corruption in high places.
The International Federation of Journalists, the Gongadze Foundation, the Institute of Mass Information and the NUJ have produced four reports on the Gongadze case, which can be downloaded here: http://www.ifj.org/en/articles/joint-statement-on-ninth-anniversary-of-gyorgy-gongadze-s-death