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Ukraine13 September 2004

Five groups criticise government denial in Gongadze murder

Reporters Without Borders and four other journalists’ organisations today denounced the Ukrainian government’s denial of evidence implicating it in the murder in 2000 of journalist Georgy Gongadze.

"As we feared, the government’s new examination of crucial tape-recordings apparently made by an ex-aide to President Leonid Kuchma has been done very secretively, so we reject the justice ministry’s 10 September statement that they are bogus," they said, noting the prosecutor-general had twice refused to allow civil society groups to monitor the latest tests.

The protest was signed by Ukraine’s Institute for Mass Information, the Article 19 group, Britain’s National Union of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists, as well as the worldwide press freedom organisation.

Olexandr Krut, the ministry’s chief forensic officer, told a press conference the tapes were a poor-quality concoction in which Kuchma’s voice could not be recognised. Krut is one of a five-member commission of "international experts" (three Ukrainians, a Russian and a Lithuanian) who examined the tapes for more than three days.

Reporters Without Borders and the other organisations had asked prosecutor-general Vassiliev Gennady in February to be allowed to take part in examining the tapes, which they demanded should be done openly. The request was refused on grounds that the national constitution and criminal code did not permit such monitoring by civil society groups.

The tapes were reportedly made in Kuchma’s office by a former secret policeman, Mykola Melnichenko, and showed that top government officials were involved in the murder of Gongadze, editor of the online newspaper, whose headless body was found near Kiev on 2 November 2000.

The prosecutor’s office said in 2001 that the tapes were bogus, but US experts who examined them in 2002 said they were genuine.

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