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Ukraine20.02.2006

Gongadze trial background

Follow daily reports from the trial of the alleged killers of journalist Georgiy Gongadze

Georgiy Gongadze, a political journalist who wrote articles about corruption implicating political figures in the Kuchma government, campaigned actively for increased press freedom in his country. In April 2000, he founded his online publication Ukraïnskaïa Pravda, of which he was also editor.

He was kidnapped on the evening of 16 September 2000, at the age of 31 years.

On 2 November 2000, a decapitated corpse and a head were found in a forest in the Taraschanskyi, region near Kiev.

The case became an affair of state a few weeks after the discovery of the body with the revelation by an opposition leader of recordings in which President Leonid Kuchma apparently asked his interior minister to get rid of the journalist.

A Reporters Without Borders’ delegation went to Kiev from 5-12 January 2001 and found the Ukrainian judicial authorities had made a series of bad mistakes throughout the investigation. The investigation seemed to have been carried out with the priority of protecting the executive from the serious accusations being made against it rather than to uncover the truth. . Over the following months, the authorities showed contempt for the family of the victim and betrayed their impatience to put an end to the case.

The prosecutor’s office ordered a new expert analysis of the tapes in the summer of 2002 to try to identify the voices, as well as a new post mortem “with the help of experts from member countries of the Council of Europe”.

On the second anniversary of Gongadze’s disappearance, in September 2002, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, Robert Ménard, went back to Kiev and signed up to become officially authorised to act as representative to the civil parties in the case, Lessia and Miroslava Gongadze, a status which they always been refused until then.

After numerous expert’s reports and further reports and a clear determination of the authorities to delay the identification of the body, a new DNA test was carried out at the forensic medicine institute in Lausanne in January 2003, at the request of Robert Ménard. This test, in March, found that the probability of Lessia Gongadze’s motherhood of the human remains found in Tarachcha was higher than 99,991%. Lessia Gongadze then agreed to bury her son’s body, which she had refused to do for the previous 27 months.

The Gongadze case becoming more than ever a major political issue, new revelations were made by the press and the courts in the summer of 2004, in the run-up to presidential elections On 17 June, the opposition-dominated parliamentary committee on the murder of Georgiy Gongadze, urged the prosecutor-general to open a criminal investigation against President Kuchma and called for his ouster. Two days later the British daily, The Independent, said it had obtained from workers at the prosecutor’s office, documents showing that the former interior minister, Yuri Kravchenko, had ordered former head of intelligence at the interior ministry, Olexi Pukach, to have Gongadze followed.

Viktor Yushchenko succeeded Leonid Kuchma as president on 23 January 2005. After being poisoned, he said, “I hope we will find the murderers of this journalist, even if we already know the answer: It was the authorities.”

The new president announced on 1st March 2005 that the killers of Georgiy Gongadze had been arrested and that the case had been cleared up, without giving their identity. Two people implicated in the murder had been arrested, a third person had been told not to leave Kiev and General Olexi Pukach was being hunted. The two Ukrainian colonels arrested on 1st March told the courts on 14 April that General Olexi Pukach had strangled the journalist himself. A warrant has been out for his arrest since 24 January 2005 and he is believed in hiding in Israel or Russia.

Ukrainian prosecutors released the identity of the three alleged murderers to the public on 8 August. They were named as police officers Valeriy Kostenko, Mikola Protasov and Oleksandr Popovych, all accused of having kidnapped and killed Gongadze.

Five years after Gongadze’s disappearance, the investigation finally threw up the names of those who carried out the murder. The prosecutor’s office has however still not given the names of those who instigated the killings, despite repeated promises from President Yushchenko.

On 20 September 2005, a Ukrainian parliamentary committee of investigation, chaired by Grigoriy Omelchenko, accused former President Kuchma of being behind the kidnapping and murder of Gongadze. It also accused the speaker of parliament, Volodymyr Litvin, by then head of the presidential office, of being the instigator of the killing.

The European Court of Human Rights on 8 November condemned the Ukrainian authorities for their inability to carry out the investigation and guarantee a remedy to the victim.

The trial of the three police officers accused of killing Georgiy Gongadze opened on 9 January 2006.

Those responsible for the murder will probably never be known. The Gongadze case is one of impunity.





 
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