Aleksei Pukach is seen at a Kiev district court on January 29, 2013. Pukach was convicted in the 2000 murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze, and is now appealing his life sentence. (AFP/Sergei Supinsky)

Man convicted of murdering Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze appeals life sentence

September 16, 2019 1:46 PM ET

Washington, D.C., September 16, 2019 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed concern over the appeal of Aleksei Pukach, a man convicted of murdering Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze. The appeal hearings began in Ukraine’s Supreme Court on September 4 and will resume on October 9, according to news reports.

Gongadze, an investigative reporter and editor of the independent news website Ukrainska Pravda, was killed on September 16, 2000, according to CPJ research.

On January 29, 2013, Pukach, the former head of the surveillance department in the Ministry of Interior, was sentenced to life in prison after confessing to the killing, according to reports.

In his appeal, Pukach claims that he killed the journalist on the orders of then Minister of Interior Yuriy Kravchenko, and alleges that Gongadze represented a threat to the state, those reports said. If the court grants the appeal, Pukach could be released immediately, according to those reports.

“Nineteen years after the brutal murder of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze, there are concerns that the confessed killer may go free. Ukrainian authorities should not allow impunity for journalists’ killings to reign,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “There must be full justice in Gongadze’s killing, and the masterminds must also be held accountable.”

Gongadze’s widow, Myroslava Gongadze, told CPJ via messaging app that, “Pukach’s release would be a serious hit to media freedom in Ukraine. It would show that perpetrators of crimes against journalists are not fully held accountable before the law.”

The investigation into Gongadze’s killing went on for more than 10 years and involved high-level officials, including Kravchenko, then President Leonid Kuchma, and Volodymyr Lytvyn, Kuchma’s chief of staff, according to CPJ research.

At least eight journalists have been murdered with partial or full impunity in Ukraine since 1992, when CPJ started documenting the killings of journalists. Most recently, Cherkasy-based reporter Vadym Komarov was assaulted in May and died in June, according to CPJ reporting.

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

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