Ukraine: Editor assaulted by public official

April 12, 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) condemns the recent beating of Oleg Liachko, editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Svoboda. We demand that the attack be investigated immediately and that the assailant — a prominent public official–be held accountable for his actions.

On March 13, Liachko published an article in Svoboda (formerly Politika), which alleged a series of links between Ukrainian politicians, state security agencies, and local criminal organizations. One of the politicians mentioned in the article was Yuri Kulbachenko, a deputy on the Odessa town council.

On March 31, Kulbachenko called Liachko and invited him to a meeting that same day in the offices of Prime-Express, a travel agency owned by KulbachenkoÕs wife. The agency is located at 23 Ulitsa Shelkovichnaya in Kyiv.

At the meeting, Kulbachenko ordered Liachko to reveal his source. When Liachko refused, Kulbachenko beat the journalist severely with his fists, bloodying his face and causing a concussion. Another person was present in the room, but did not participate in the beating. Kulbachenko told Liachko that he would never leave the office, and that no one would ever find him.

Fearing for his safety, Liachko promised to write a second article retracting the allegations he had made about Kulbachenko. After the journalist was allowed to leave, he immediately sought medical help and contacted the police.

On April 11, the police told Liachko that his file had been closed on April 6 and that there would be no further investigation into the beating by Kulbachenko. The police gave no explanation for their decision and refused to allow Liachko to read his own file. To date, police have not interviewed Kulbachenko in connection with the attack.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom around the world, we are outraged by this attack. Journalists have the right under your countryÕs Constitution and under international law to express their views and opinions freely, and the fact that a public official would go unpunished after using violence to deprive him of this right calls into question your governmentÕs commitment to press freedom.

The fact that police abruptly closed their investigation of the Liachko case suggest that they are under political pressure. We demand that Your Excellency use your good offices to ensure that the prosecutor-general opens an inquiry immediately. If the charges are substantiated, then Kulbachenko must be brought to justice.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director