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Ukraine 29 March 2002

RSF deplores worsening violence against the press

Elections will be held in Ukraine on 31 March after four years of grave deterioration in press freedom. Despite government promises after pressure from the Council of Europe, there have been more and more physical attacks on journalists since the last elections in 1998, including 11 murders. That violence has increased in the run-up to the new vote. On 24 March, the driver of a car distributing copies of the newspaper Svoboda was physically attacked and most of the paper’s print-run destroyed. On 27 March, more than 100,000 copies of the newspaper 21st Century, in Lugansk, were seized. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) correspondents in the country report that 11 journalists have been killed in mysterious circumstances since 1998 and 48 others seriously injured in brutal attacks. This included one killed and nine injured in 1998, three killed and seven injured in 1999 and four killed and seven injured in 2000. Last year the toll was two killed and 18 injured. So far this year, one journalist has been killed in a mystery road accident and seven physically attacked. Most of the journalists were attacked in similar ways - in the stairway of their apartment buildings and hit over the head. Most were working too on stories about corruption involving the secret police militia, the state prosecutor’s office or local and national political and economic institutions, though some attacks were not clearly linked to journalism. Most of the attackers have not been identified and arrests that were made (of tramps and drug addicts) cast doubt on the seriousness of the investigation. The most notorious cases, of Georgy Gongadze, who was killed in 2000, and Igor Alexandrov (murdered last year), police and prosecutors openly obstructed the investigations, which never involved the interior ministry’s militia (the SBU secret police), who were suspected in many of the cases. Such conditions guarantee impunity for the killers and attackers of journalists and is the main threat to freedom of expression in Ukraine.

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