Suspect charged with journalist’s murder acquitted

New York, May 17, 2002—The man accused in the July 2001 murder of prominent television journalist Igor Aleksandrov was acquitted today by the Donetsk Court of Appeals in eastern Ukraine.

The court ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict Yuri Verdyuk and instructed officials to reopen the murder investigation, according to local and international news reports.

Law enforcement officials arrested Verdyuk in August 2001, a month after Aleksandrov’s murder. The General Prosecutor’s Office charged him with the murder in mid-December.

On the morning of July 3, Aleksandrov, director of the independent television company Tor, was assaulted by unknown attackers with baseball bats as he entered Tor’s offices.

He was rushed to the local city hospital, where he underwent surgery. The journalist never regained consciousness and died from the head injuries on the morning of July 7.

Aleksandrov’s colleagues believe the murder was connected to his television program, “Bez Retushi” (Without Retouching), which featured investigative coverage of government corruption and organized crime. The program often criticized Slavyansk municipal authorities.

A faulty investigation?
Soon after the murder, Donetsk regional prosecutor Viktor Pshonka launched an official investigation. Donetsk regional governor Viktor Yanukovich and Ukrainian internal affairs minister Yury Smirnov were directly involved in supervising the investigation, according to the local press.

The chief of the Donetsk Ministry of Internal Affairs, Gen. Vladimir Malyshev, stated that revenge was the leading motive in the murder but did not elaborate.

A parliamentary investigative commission was established in September 2001 to examine Aleksandrov’s murder. Late in the year, the commission accused the Ukrainian Security Service of falsifying evidence in the case.

“Verdyuk’s acquittal, combined with the failure of Ukrainian authorities to investigate this murder effectively, contributes to a culture of impunity for those who would target journalists in reprisal for their work,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.

Aleksandrov became well known in 1998, when prosecutors brought a criminal case against him for insulting the honor and dignity of a parliamentary deputy. Aleksandrov appealed the ruling to the European Court of Human Rights, where the case was pending at the time of his murder.