Four years later, case of murdered journalist Gongadze remains unsolved

New York, September 16, 2004
—Four years after the disappearance and death of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze, the Committee to Protect Journalists is dismayed by the lack of progress in the government’s inquiry into the case. CPJ also remains concerned that journalists are being harassed in the run-up to October elections.

“It is reprehensible that President Leonid Kuchma’s government continues to obstruct the official inquiry into Gongadze’s death,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “That, combined with the ongoing harassment of the media designed to stifle coverage before next month’s poll, only makes the press freedom situation in Ukraine more dire.”

Gongadze was editor of the Internet news site Ukrainska Pravda, which often reported on alleged high-level government corruption. 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. But on September 10, the Justice Ministry announced that the tapes had been analyzed and were determined to be manipulated and inauthentic.

Sergey Taran, director of the Kyiv-based nongovernmental press watchdog Institute for Mass Information, told CPJ, “It is interesting to note that independent experts in a number of Western countries, including the United States, have conducted open examinations of the tapes and pronounced them authentic, and the Ukrainian Justice Ministry claims they are doctored.” He continued, “We demand a new, and open, examination of the tapes.”

While some 250 journalists and opposition activists gathered today at a memorial for the slain journalist near Kyiv, the Ukrainian Justice Ministry and the Interior Ministry claim that the investigation has produced no answers about who ordered and executed Gongadze’s murder.

First Deputy Minister of Interior Mikhail Kornienko told journalists at a press conference today that the Interior Ministry cannot determine whether Gongadze was under surveillance at the time of his disappearance because in 2001, the ministry destroyed documents that could have provided clues because their archival expiration date had passed, the independent newspaper Ukrainski Novini reported.

Media harassment ahead of presidential elections
Independent media are facing serious harassment as they try to report on the run-up to presidential elections, scheduled for October. On September 13, broadcasts of the independent television channel 5Kanal were suspended in Kharkov, the country’s second largest city, according to local reports. 5Kanal is scheduled to broadcast a two-part, independent journalistic investigation on Gongadze’s disappearance and death starting tonight, the independent Web site Ukrainska Pravda reported.

Workers at the cable network Alphatelecommunications, which carries 5Kanal, told channel staffers privately that government authorities pressured them to cut the channel’s broadcasts, according to a staff member at 5Kanal.

Cable carriers in several other cities have also suspended 5Kanal’s broadcasts during the last three months, Ukrainska Pravda reported.

5Kanal is the only major television channel not controlled by the government or pro-government oligarchs, the U.S. government–funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.