Internet journalist disappears; colleagues suspect foul play

September 25, 2000

His Excellency Leonid Kuchma
President of Ukraine
vul. Bankivska 11
Kyiv, Ukraine
Via Fax: 011-380-44-293-7364/291-6161/293-1001

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the recent disappearance of Georgy Gongadze, the 31-year-old editor of the news Web site Ukrainska Pravda . This event has alarmed the journalistic community in Ukraine and further eroded your government’s already limited credibility on press-freedom issues.

Gongadze, whose site has often featured critical articles about Ukraine government officials, disappeared in Kyiv on the evening of Saturday, September 16. Gongadze had left the home of a colleague at 10:20 p.m. to meet his wife and two young children at home. He never arrived.

The police launched an investigation, but so far have turned up no leads. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Parliament has established a special commission to investigate Gongadze’s disappearance. According to local sources, there are grounds to suspect that the abduction was related to the editor’s professional work.

Shortly after Gongadze disappeared, the deputy director of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Nikolay Dzhyga, announced that authorities were looking into three possible scenarios: that Gongadze planned his own abduction, that he was involved in an accident, or that the abduction was related to Gongadze’s journalism.

On September 19, however, Deputy Interior Minister Mykola Dzhyha announced that the police have ruled out any political motive. Police officials are now suggesting that the disappearance was related to Gongadze’s personal life. This conclusion is premature, to say the least.

Gongadze’s disappearance follows several suspect or inconclusive investigations into the deaths of local journalists. Sixty local journalists expressed their concern about this trend in a letter sent to Your Excellency and the Ukrainian Parliament on September 19. The letter cited the cases of Kievskiye Vedomosti correspondent Petro Shevchenko (found dead hanging from a rope in an abandoned building in Luhansk on March 13, 1997), and murdered Vechernyaya Odessa editor Boris Derevyanko (shot in the heart and stomach on August 11, 1997).

This year alone, two journalists have been beaten after publishing articles about official corruption, according to CPJ research. These cases demonstrate that Ukrainian journalists put their lives at risk when they dare to criticize government officials and other powerful figures. CPJ protested all these attacks in letters to Your Excellency, but has received no reply.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists devoted to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ calls on the police to investigate Georgy Gongadze’s disappearance
thoroughly, and to release information about the case in a timely manner. We also urge Your Excellency to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of reporters in Ukraine.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We await your reply.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director