New York, August 16, 2011--The Pechersky District Court in Kyiv must open to the public the ongoing trial against Aleksei Pukach, a former interior ministry general charged with the notorious 2000 killing of independent journalist Georgy Gongadze, the Committee to Protect Journalist said today.
In custody since July 2009, Pukach is being tried on allegations he strangled and beheaded Gongadze, a prominent investigative reporter and editor of the online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda. Pukach's trial, which began on July 7, has been conducted entirely in private.
On Monday, the panel of judges presiding over the case denied a request by Valentina Telychenko, a lawyer for Gongadze's widow, Myroslava, to have the trial opened to the public, Ukrainska Pravda reported. The judges did not address why they believed the entire trial needed to be held in secret, rather than taking the more limited step of sealing only portions of the proceedings.
The ruling was the third instance in which the courts have denied Telychenko's efforts to have elements of the case unsealed, the lawyer told CPJ.
The judges had ruled previously that the indictment against Pukach--a former chief of the Interior Ministry's surveillance department--contains state secrets and could not be made public. The court did not explain why the entire indictment, rather than portions, merited sealing, Telychenko said. The blanket classification of the indictment prevents Gongadze's lawyers from sharing information with outside parties; if such information is shared, the lawyer may be prosecuted, Telychenko said.
"The trial of the suspected murderers of our colleague Georgy Gongadze is a defining moment not only for Ukraine but for the entire former Soviet bloc," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. "Ukraine must demonstrate that it has turned a new page in its historical development by choosing transparency over secrecy and justice over impunity in this flagship case."
Telychenko told CPJ she believes that documented procedural violations in the investigation are the actual reason behind the judges' decision to close the trial to the public.
In another disturbing development, prosecutors have filed a motion to close the official investigation into the role of Yuri Kravchenko. Authorities have named the late interior minister as the mastermind behind the murder. Telychenko said that closing the probe would make it far more difficult to establish motives in the murder. The motion is pending.
Kravchenko was found dead in 2005, with two gunshot wounds to the head. Despite great skepticism, authorities declared the death a suicide.