CPJ marks second anniversary of journalist’s disappearance

New York, September 13, 2002—Two years after the disappearance of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze, the Committee to Protect Journalists is dismayed by the lack of progress in the government’s inquiry into this case.

“President Leonid Kuchma’s government continues to obstruct the official 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 (www.pravda.com.ua), 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 2000, a headless corpse believed to be his body was discovered in a forest outside the capital, Kyiv.

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

Muddled investigation continues
Though the Gongadze murder occurred in 2000, the case has dominated Ukrainian news throughout 2001 and much of 2002, with numerous developments that often bordered on the bizarre.

A team of FBI homicide experts invited by the government to assist in the investigation left the country in April 2002 after being denied access to information about the case.

This month, nearly two years after the discovery of the body in November 2000, Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun announced that the headless corpse was that of Gongadze.

Meanwhile, Olena Prytula, a close associate of Gongadze’s who is the current editor-in-chief of Internet Ukrainska Pravda and an important witness in the murder case, recently told CPJ that she has received information about unspecified threats against her.

A flurry of high-profile steps taken by the Prosecutor General’s Office this summer—including the detention of a regional prosecutor and his investigator for allegedly mishandling the initial inquiry into the headless corpse when it was discovered in a shallow grave in Tarashcha, just outside Kyiv—have been seen by CPJ sources and members of the opposition press as a government attempt to diminish the impact of nationwide anti-Kuchma rallies planned for September 16.

Ongoing impunity for murdering journalists
In addition to Gongadze’s case, CPJ is also concerned about a number of other journalists who have been murdered with impunity. Oleh Breus, publisher of the regional weekly XXI Vek in the provincial city of Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine, was shot dead outside his home in June 2001, and police have made no significant progress in the case.

A group of men wielding clubs murdered Igor Aleksandrov, director of Tor, an independent television company based in Slavyansk, also in eastern Ukraine, in July 2001 as he entered Tor’s offices. A homeless man, who was accused of the murder, was acquitted in May 2002 for lack of evidence. He died of a heart attack two months later. No other significant developments have been reported in the case since.