CPJ marks third anniversary of journalist’s disappearance

New York, September 16, 2003—Three years after the disappearance of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 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 subsequent 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 much of the last three years and the government’s inquiry into the murder continued to flounder in 2003.

On May 6, 2003, the Shevchenko District Court in Kyiv convicted Serhy Obozov, the former prosecutor of Tarashcha District, of obstructing the criminal inquiry into Gongadze’s disappearance and murder. Obozov, who was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and immediately amnestied by the court, was seen as a scapegoat by some local analysts.

Ihor Goncharov, a former senior police official who reportedly led a criminal gang, was a suspect in the case but died last month while in police custody. His body did not undergo an autopsy and was cremated two days later.

Also last month, the Institute of Mass Information, a Kyiv-based press freedom organization (www.imi.org.ua), published excerpts of a 17-page letter on its Web site that Goncharov had written prior to his death. In the letter, Goncharov accused senior officials from the Interior Ministry’s Directorate for Combating Organized Crime of ordering Gongadze’s murder.

A week after the allegation was made, deputy prosecutor general Oleksandr Medvedko said the evidence was “nothing new,” Deutsche Presse Agentur reported. Last week, deputy prosecutor general Viktor Shokin confirmed that Goncharov’s letter was authentic but dismissed its allegations, The Associated Press reported.