On anniversary of journalist’s disappearance, CPJ supports calls for international inquiry

New York, September 18, 2001—One year after the disappearance of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze, CPJ joins Gongadze’s widow in calling for an international investigation into the unsolved case.

“President Kuchma and other cabinet officials have spent an entire year obstructing this inquiry,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Journalists in Ukraine will not feel safe until the government’s role in Gongadze’s disappearance is fully clarified, and those responsible for his abduction and death are behind bars.”

Gongadze was editor of the Internet news site Ukrainska Pravda, which often reported on alleged high-level government corruption in Ukraine. He disappeared on September 16, 2000, after several weeks of harassment by police officials. In early November, a headless corpse believed to be his body was discovered in a forest outside Kyiv.

Several weeks later, an opposition leader released tapes recorded by a former bodyguard of President Kuchma implicating his government in Gongadze’s disappearance. The tapes caused a major nationwide political crisis and led to numerous protest demonstrations against the Kuchma government.

Widow criticizes official inquiry
On September 12, Gongadze’s widow sent President Kuchma an open letter attacking his administration’s handling of the case.

“You [Kuchma] are responsible for the system which allows journalists to be murdered,” Myroslava Gongadze wrote. “Until the investigations of the crimes against journalists and politicians in Ukraine are complete and the truth [has been] established…Ukraine cannot be considered a stable European country where human rights and freedom of the press are respected.”

Growing pressure on Kuchma
On September 15, protesters marched through Kyiv to commemorate the anniversary of Gongadze’s disappearance. Several thousand people joined in the march, according to Western media estimates.

Governments concerned about Ukraine’s poor human rights record have also increased their pressure on the Kuchma administration in recent months. The U.S. national security adviser, Condaleezza Rice, visited Kuchma in late July to discuss U.S.-Ukrainian relations.

Rice told Kuchma it was “very important to the world’s confidence” in Ukraine to conduct a thorough investigation into Gongadze’s disappearance, Agence France-Presse reported.

More recently, at a September 11 summit meeting between European Union and Ukrainian government officials in Yalta, senior EU representatives called on President Kuchma to improve press freedom conditions in the country during the run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2002.

At the opening of the summit, Guy Verhofstadt, the prime minister of Belgium, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, stated, “These elections must be used to show that journalists can work freely in Ukraine,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Journalists remain targets
Ukraine’s independent journalists continue to suffer violence and intimidation:
On the morning of July 3, Igor Aleksandrov, director of the independent television company Tor in the eastern city of Slavyansk, was assaulted by unknown men wielding baseball bats. He died several days later.

On the evening of July 11, two unidentified men assaulted Oleh Velichko, the head of the Avers Corporation, a conglomerate of independent media outlets, outside his home in western Ukraine.

On the evening of August 26, Aleksey Movsesyan, a 23-year-old cameraman with the independent television station Efir-1 in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, was assaulted and sustained critical head injuries.

Police officials maintain that the attacks were unrelated to the journalists’ professional work. However, Aleksandrov, Velichko, and Movsesyan were all associated with media outlets known for criticizing local authorities.