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Ukraine21 September 2004

Authorities said death of journalist found hanged was due to an accident

The death of Volodymyr Karachevtsev, who was found hanged from the handle of a refrigerator in his apartment on 14 December 2003, was an accident resulting from the consumption of a large amount of alcohol, the Ukraine state prosecutor’s office announced on 17 September.

"The case is closed," prosecutor’s office spokesman Sergiy Roudenko said. "In advanced state of inebriation, the journalist died of asphyxiation after accidentally hanging himself," Roudenko said, reporting that Karachevtsev’s blood alcohol level at the time of death was 2.8 grams per litre.

"The investigators analyzed what this journalist had published and there is no reason to think that one of his articles could have prompted a desire for revenge," he added.

Karachevtsev, who died in his apartment in the southeastern town of Melitopol, was deputy editor of the weekly Kurier, a contributor to the online newspaper, and chairman of the Regional Union of Independent Journalists of Zaporojie.

Reporters Without Borders, the Mass Media Institue and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe had all urged the authorities to investigate his death thoroughly.


Reporters Without Borders and the Mass Media Institute urge fullest probe after journalist found hanged

Reporters Without Borders and the Institute for Mass Media (IMI) have called for the fullest investigation into the death of Volodymyr Karachevtsev, deputy editor of the weekly Kurier, who was found hanged from the handle of the refrigerator in his apartment.

Karachevtsev, who was also a correspondent for the online newspaper and chaired the regional independent journalists’ union in Zaporojie (south-eastern Ukraine) was found dead on 14 December at his home in Melitopol.

"The circumstances of the death of this journalist, who was critical of the local authorities, are particularly disturbing and the information we have obtained is contradictory," said Reporters Without Borders and the IMI in a letter to the Ukrainian prosecutor-general, Gennadi Vassiliev.

"Given the fragile state of press freedom in your country and of the history which we all remember, we call on you to personally ensure that the police investigation is carried out with the utmost rigour, speed and openness. To rule out the motive of his professional work at this stage of the investigation, would seem to be a serious mistake in our eyes," the letter concluded.

Karachevtsev, 47, father of two children and a former Naval officer, was found by his ex-wife, Zinaida, hanging by the collar of his pullover from the handle of the refrigerator just 70 cms from the ground.

The day before, his former wife had visited the journalist, who was upset by the death of his father a week earlier. The journalist was buried two days after his death, on 16 December.

The Melitopol prosecutor, Leonid Vasylenko, has announced the opening of an investigation. He said that Karachevtsev died from a ’mechanical asphyxia’, that local medical experts had already carried out some tests and that other samples taken were yet to be examined.

According to the prosecutor and the deputy head of the local police, Oleg Bukach, suicide has been ruled out. Police say that for the moment they consider it most likely to have been an accidental death.

Bukach said on 16 December that the journalist, who was in a drunken state, had fallen and the collar of his pullover had caught on the refrigerator handle, strangling him. He said the police had not found his apartment in any state of disorder. He told Reporters Without Borders that some expert results, which had to be kept confidential, had already reached him and that the body of the victim showed no signs of violence.

The journalist’s colleagues and in particular the editor in chief of Kurier, Igor Yenin, rejected the accident theory and were convinced that he had been murdered to stop him revealing information that would have been embarrassing for the local authorities.

The editorial team, which is carrying out is own investigation, said that the apartment was in fact in a disordered state and that the police, who did not yet have the alcohol test results, should be wary of jumping to any hasty conclusions.

Karachevtsev had recently been working on investigations into corruption involving various local political officials, in connection with the sale by the mayor of a state-owned property at a low price and on the bankruptcy of the Start plant.

In an interview with IMI, Igor Yenin said that Karachevtsev had gone reporting not far from the town a week earlier and his equipment, in particular a dictaphone and a camera should have been in the apartment. He had reported receiving death threats and being the victim of a physical attack at the start of the year.

Several elements, that appeared in the press, give rise to the suspicion that it could be a murder linked to his work as a journalist. On 16 December in the afternoon, the editorial office of took an anonymous call from a man who said in a cheerful voice, "That’s one idiot less. Wait and see what happens next. I will call you back."

The journalists, who managed to get the telephone number, gave the information to the prosecutor’s office, which quickly identified the caller. According to the prosecutor, Vasylenko, it was the director of the Melitopol city business service.

Kurier often publishes articles that are extremely critical of the town mayor, Vasyl Yefymenko, and his deputy, Oleksander Ilchuk. As for the site, set up by the union of local independent journalists, it had set itself the task of exposing and condemning every dubious practice carried out by the local authorities and local politicians.

Reporters Without Borders and IMI point out that Géorgiy Gongadze, editor in chief of the online newspaper, and Igor Alexandrov, director-general of TOR television, both highly critical of the government, were murdered respectively in 2000 and 2001.

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