Ukraine15 September 2004
Call for a public trial in the case of Georgy Gongadze four years after he went missing
On the fourth anniversary of journalist Georgy Gongadze’s disappearance and amid new revelations about the case by the press and judicial officials, Reporters Without Borders today called for the holding of a public trial. The editor of the online newspaper pravda.com, Gongadze disappeared on 16 September 2000. His headless body was found near Kiev on 2 November that year.
The Ukraine prosecutor-general’s office recently said a prisoner had made a confession, while the British daily The Independent said it had documents showing that Gongadze was followed by the security services prior to his disappearance and that a key witness’s death was due to poisoning and not the result of a beating by prison guards, as judicial officials claim.
"There had been no significant progress in the investigation into the disappearance and murder of this journalist for years," Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, Gennady Vassiliyev. "But now, with the Gongadze case a major political issue in the run-up to the presidential election, new facts have been revealed by both the press and the prosecutor’s office."
The organisation added: "This new information is of capital importance, and if you think it is credible, it is time for the judicial process to move on to the next stage - a public and fair trial."
An opposition-dominated parliamentary commission on the Gongadze case called on the prosecutor-general’s office on 17 June to initiate criminal proceedings against President Leonid Kuchma and demanded his removal from office for being implicated in the murder. The commission’s president, Grigory Omelshenko, however said there was not yet have enough evidence to say that Kuchma organised Gongadze’s murder.
The Independent reported on 19 June that members of the prosecutor-general’s staff provided it with documents showing that former interior minister Yuri Kravachenko ordered the interior ministry’s former intelligence chief, Olexi Pukach, to have Gongadze followed. Pukach was arrested in October 2003 on suspicion of destroying key evidence in this case, but was released a month later. The prosecutor-general’s office asked the interior ministry on 14 July to explain why police officers had been following Gongadze.
The Independent said the documents it obtained also showed that the death of key witness, former plain-clothes police detective Igor Goncharov, in prison on 1 August 2003 was due to an overdose of barbiturates and not "bodily injuries" inflicted by prison guards, as the prosecutor-general’s office had maintained. Goncharov’s body was cremated three days after his death.
Goncharov had been arrested in May 2002 for his alleged role in a number of murders carried out by a gang of criminals and former police officers. He refused several times to make a statement to the prosecutor-general’s office, claiming he was afraid of being killed in prison.
In a letter that came to light after his death (and which was authenticated by the prosecutor’s office), Goncharov said these murders, including Gongadze’s, were committed on the orders of Kravchenko, the then interior minister, and his successor, Yuri Smirnov." He added: "The highest government officials and the president knew about these kidnappings and murders, and they are implicated."
The prosecutor-general’s office announced on 21 June that a "Mr. K" who was being held on suspicion of murdering several people by means of beheading had confessed to Gongadze’s murder and had described the circumstances of his death in detail. But the office has not provided any more information about the suspect.
Olexandre Krut, the person in charge of judicial expert evidence at the justice ministry, claimed at a news conference on 10 September that tape-recordings implicating senior government officials - apparently made in President Kuchma’s office by a former official, Mykola Melnishenko - were in fact the result of a botched editing job and Kuchma’s voice could not be positively identified.
The prosecutor’s office had claimed in 2001 that the recordings were a forgery, although an expert analysis carried out in the United States in 2002 concluded that much of them at least were genuine. Reporters Without Borders, the Mass Media Institute, Article 19, Britain’s National Union of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists have all criticised the latest expert analysis, which was carried out without any transparency.