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Ukrainian prosecutor claims confessions in Gongadze case

New York, April 5, 2005—Ukraine's prosecutor-general said yesterday that two former police officers arrested in March as suspects in the 2000 murder of Internet journalist Georgy Gongadze have confessed to the killing, according to local and international press reports.

Vyacheslav Astapov, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office, said the officers were cooperating with investigators in providing details about the crime, The Associated Press reported. The reported confessions are the latest in a series of developments in the high-profile case, which had marred the integrity of the Ukrainian government and justice system.

In an interview with the news Web site Ukrainska Pravda (www.pravda.com.ua), which was once edited by Gongadze, President Viktor Yushchenko said the two former police officers had led the investigators to the crime scene and had "demonstrated how it all happened." The officers had been charged with murder shortly after they were detained in early March.

Yushchenko, who was propelled to power in last year's opposition-led Orange Revolution, had pledged at his January inauguration to revive the long-stalled murder probe. He is now in the United States on an official diplomatic visit.

"We are encouraged by the progress in the Gongadze case. But to truly end this grim chapter in Ukraine's history and set the course for press freedom, authorities must identify and prosecute all individuals responsible for this horrible crime," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.

In a separate development, the Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Human Rights agreed on March 31 to hear a lawsuit filed by Myroslava Gongadze, widow of the slain journalist, against the Ukrainian government, according to local and international press reports.

In her claim, Gongadze said that Ukrainian authorities failed to protect her husband, and she accused them of creating a climate of fear by issuing conflicting statements about the investigation, the news agency ITAR-TASS reported. She filed the claim on September 16, 2002.

Gongadze said she is still pursuing the lawsuit because of what she called the "criminal inaction" of the administration of former president Leonid Kuchma. Gongadze said she wants to establish an international precedent holding authorities accountable for their actions in such matters, according to local press reports.

Background
Gongadze, editor of Ukrainska Pravda, which often featured criticism of Kuchma and other high officials, disappeared in the capital, Kyiv, in September 2000. His decapitated body was found two months later in a forest outside the city.

The revived investigation has also led to the questioning of top government officials. The prosecutor-general's office questioned Kuchma last month. Authorities did not disclose details of the interview, but Kuchma previously denied allegations of involvement in the slaying. Former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko committed suicide on March 4—just hours before he was to be questioned by prosecutors.

A parliamentary committee last year recommended that a criminal case be opened against Kuchma, who allegedly discussed ways of silencing Gongadze in tape-recorded conversations with senior government officials.

The audiotapes were made by former security agent Mykola Melnichenko. The Ukrainian government confirmed that Yushchenko plans to meet with Melnychenko when visiting Washington, D.C., this month. Melnychenko, who was granted political asylum in the United States in 2001, is considering testifying in a murder trial if his security in Ukraine can be ensured.

For CPJ alerts on recent developments in the Gongadze murder case, visit the following links:
http://www.cpj.org/news/2005/Ukraine01mar05na.html (March 1, 2005)
http://www.cpj.org/news/2005/Ukraine04mar05na.html (March 4, 2004)
http://www.cpj.org/news/2005/Ukraine11mar05na.html (March 11, 2004)




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