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Gongadze trial

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Gongadze murder trial resumes in Kiev

The trial of three policemen accused of the 2000 murder of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze resumed in Kiev on 5 February. The prosecutor has requested sentences ranging from 12 to 14 years in prison for the three defendants, Nicolas Protasov, Alexandre Popovitch and Valery Kostenko.

“As the trial resumes, we reiterate our desire to see Gongadze’s murderers convicted,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We hope that all those who were behind this murder will also be identified, tried and convicted.”

Ukraine’s deputy prosecutor-general Mykola Holomsha, said at the start of the month that he was waiting for the results of the expert analysis of the recordings made by former President Leonid Kuchma’s bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko. As soon as they are known, the court could formally charge “certain persons” with organising Gongadze’s murder, he said.

The editor of the online newspaper Ukrainskaya Pravda, which he created in April 2000, Gongadze often wrote about cases of alleged corruption involving members of the Kuchma government. He was also an active campaigner for more press freedom in Ukraine. He was 31 years old when he was kidnapped on 16 September 2000. A headless body and a skull found near Kiev six weeks later were identified as his.

25.07.2007 - Gongadze murder trial resumes in Kiev

The trial of three policemen accused of the 2000 murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze resumed in Kiev on 18 July. Valentyna Telychenko, the lawyer representing the victim’s widow, Myroslava Gongadze, said the prosecution requested additional medical reports. Each of the defendants will have to undergo a psychological and psychiatric examination. A hearing was held behind closed doors on 24 July.

29.08.2006 - Gongadze’s mother distances herself from trial

Lessia Gongadze, the mother of journalist Georgy Gongadze, has announced that she will no longer be involved in the ongoing trial of three policemen accused of murdering him in 2000, and that she has broken off all contact with her lawyer Andriu Fedur.

She told the German public radio station Deutsche Welle that she had no confidence in the outcome of the trial, and that she had felt this way since it began. She added that she was very sceptical about the guilt of the three defendants.

The next hearing is still set for 14 September.

17.07.2006 - Court questions Gongadze widow for first time

Myroslava Gongadze, the widow of journalist Georgy Gongadze, was for the first time questioned in court on 12 and 13 July in the trial of three policemen accused of murdering him in 2000. She was asked about the stories he covered, his sources, and how he financed the online newspaper he edited, Ukrainskaya Pravda.

She told the press after the hearing that she intended to file a complaint against the state prosecutors previously in charge of the case - Mykhaylo Potebenko, Hennady Vasiliev and Svyatoslav Piskun - because of the long time the murder investigation took.

The slowness of the trial was criticised on 12 July by Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a representative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, who urged the authorities to do more to identify who gave the orders to the three defendants currently on trial. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger is producing a report on crimes committed by senior officials in Ukraine under former President Leonid Kuchma.

The next hearing in the Gongadze trial has been postponed until 14 September.

29.06.2006 - Hearings resume in Gongadze murder trial, prosecutor says body can be handed over to Gongadze’s mother

The cross-examination of Mykola Protassov, one of the three policemen accused of the 2000 murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze, resumed in court on 26 June. The hearing had been due to take place on 20 June but was postponed because Protassov’s lawyer was ill.

The judges said his testimony was similar to that of Oleksandr Popovich, the alleged driver of the vehicle that transported Gongadze. Valentina Telichenko, the lawyer acting for Gongadze’s widow, Myroslava Gongadze, said their testimonies matched.

The public prosecutor has meanwhile approved the return of Gongadze’s body to his mother, Lessia Gongadze, for burial. However, the Ukrainian press recently carried statements by his mother in which she said she no longer accept that the body really is her son’s.

A DNA test carried out in 2003 at the request of Reporters Without Borders found there was a statistical probability of more than 99.991 percent that the body found in a forest near Kiev in November 2000 was Gongadze’s. Lessia Gongadze had said at the time she was ready to take the body and bury it.

Myroslava Gongadze has meanwhile said she would return from the United States, where she is a political refugee, to attend her late husband’s burial in Ukraine next month if Lessia Gongadze gives her approval.

15.06.2006 - Gongadze trial to resume on 20 June with cross-examination of second suspect

The cross examination of Oleksandr Popovitch, one of the four alleged killers of Géorgiy Gongadze continued behind closed doors on 25 May 2006. The case was adjourned on 26 May until 9 June because one of the judges had to leave for another case.

The court completed the cross examination of Oleksandr Popovitch on 9 June.

Judges will continue questioning another of the four accused, Mykola Protassov, which started on 9 June, when the case resumes on 20 June.

Elsewhere, Reporters Without Borders notes the plan of the mayor of Kiev to raise a monument in memory of Géorgiy Gongadze and other journalists who were victims of violations of freedom of expression in Ukraine. The mayor, Leonid Chernovetski, will decide on the form and site of the monument at the end of the week.

18.05.2006 - One of the alleged killers of Gongadze starts giving evidence to court

The court began hearing evidence from Oleksandr Popovitch, one of the three police officers on trial accused of the kidnapping and murder of online journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000.

Earlier, on 16 May, the appeal court in Kiev heard the conclusions of a state-appointed expert, Volodymyr Yevdokimov, about access to documents relating to the Gongadze murder which had been classified as a secret.

The expert authorised representatives of the public ministry and the defence to have access to these documents. Volodymyr Velychko, representing the journalist’s widow, Myroslava Gongadze, failed to make an application in time and will only be allowed access to them at a later stage.

The next hearing is listed for 25 May.

20.04.2006 - Yushchenko wants open trial while Lessia Gongadze calls it a mockery

President Viktor Yushchenko has asked his security chief, Anatoliy Kinzkh, and the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Ihor Dryzhchany, to allow Lessia Gongadze access to classified information about her son’s murder. He also believes the trial should be open and has asked the state prosecutor’s office and the court to allow as much public access as possible.

Lessia Gongadze meanwhile said in an interview for the magazine Profile on 3 April that the case has made no progress since Yushchenko became president. She accused former President Kuchma of dragging the case out and said neither Kuchma nor Yushchenko were able to act freely. “If even President Yushchenko cannot do anything to clear up this case, then something is wrong with this country,” she said, adding that the trial was a “mockery.”

22.03.2006 - Court restricts access to trial because evidence considered classified

An official expert said certain evidence in the Gongadze case should be considered “classified.” As a result, access to the courtroom will henceforth be restricted. Lessia Gongadze’s two lawyers, Andriy Fedur and Volodymyr Prykhodko, will have to request authorisation to attend the next few hearings, at which this supposedly classified evidence will be discussed.

The two lawyers meanwhile asked the court to grant an adjournment to allow them time to examine the conclusions of the Munich Institute experts who examined Gongadze’s body on 25 January. Lessia Gongadze will also be allowed to see their findings.

The trial was adjourned until further notice.

17.02.2006 - Surprise statement by interior minister

Interior minister Lutsenko said he was not opposed to the trial being public, in view of how interested in it Ukrainians had become.

16.02.2006 - Appeals court needs time to look at documents and adjourns trial again

The trial was adjourned indefinitely after the Kiev appeal court said it needed time to examine various documents to see if they should be classified as state secrets. Its ruling will decide whether the trial will be open to the public.

16.02.2006 - Gongadze family wants to hear evidence of politicians involved in the case

Gongadze family lawyer Andriy Fedur once again called for the trial to be open to the public and the media and for Kuchma to be questioned, along with Litvin (now president of parliament), Melnichenko and Yushchenko himself, whose voice was heard in the tapes. “Yushchenko isn’t involved in the murder but if he confirms it’s him on the tapes, he could give us some important details,” Fedur said.

14.02.2006 - Strong statement by President Yushchenko

Viktor Yushchenko personally urged the appeal court in Kiev to open the Gongadze trial to the public and media.

13.02.2006 - Olexi Pukach still on the run and reportedly in Russia or Israel

Interpol are still looking for the interior ministry’s former intelligence chief, Olexi Pukach, the fourth suspected killer. Interior minister Yuri Lutsenko said he may be in Russia or Israel.

10.02.2006 - Two of the three accused plead guilty

Two of the three accused pleaded guilty to all the charges against them, while the third pleaded guilty to some.

“This is an important step” Shilov told the daily paper Sevodnia, “because the accused sometimes claim at this stage they are innocent and have been manipulated. This did not happen here because the investigation was done properly and the evidence is solid.” He did not say who pleaded partly guilty because the law forbids it until the verdict is handed down.

Sevodnia said Mykola Protassov and Valery Kostenko pleaded entirely guilty while Oleksandr Popovitch pleaded partly guilty, saying he had not been directly involved in the murder and had simply driven the car in which Gongadze was kidnapped and taken to where he was killed.

10.02.2006 - Head of the presidential office calls for the trial to be open to the public and media

Head of the presidential office, Oleg Rybachuk, speaking in the name of President Viktor Yushchenko, called on the trial administrators and the judicial authorities for the Gongadze trial to be made open to the public from its next hearing on 16 February. Two days earlier he went to the appeal court in Kiev to make clear the president’s anger at the fact the trial was taking place behind closed doors.

8.02.2006 - Gongadze trial postponed again

Reporters Without Borders today criticised the new delay in the trial of the suspected killers of journalist Georgy Gongadze, supposedly because of the illness of one of the three accused.

Kiev appeals court judge Irina Grigorieva agree to a request for postponement by defendant Oleksandr Popovitch, who said he was not well enough for further questioning, and adjourned the trial to 16 February so he could have medical treatment.

Reporters Without Borders expressed surprise that the judge has so far agreed to all the defendants’ requests but rejected the call by the Gongadze family’s lawyer for the trial to be held in public.

It also criticised the slowness of the trial, which suits many politicians who do not want their names mentioned at the trial only a few weeks before parliamentary elections.

The Gongadze trial, which has been adjourned five times since it began on 9 January, is expected to last several months.

8.02.2006 - More than 47 witnesses may testify

The trial began several weeks earlier but some witnesses have still to give evidence. Prosecution spokesman Vladimir Shilov told Kommersant Ukraina that the court planned to call 47 in all, half of them behind closed doors, and especially Gongadze colleagues such as Julia Mostovaya, editor of Zerkalo Nedeli, and Lyudmila Dobrovolskaya, presenter of the programme “Studiy 1/1.” People named by one of the accused killers, Oleksandr Popovitch, will be questioned again. Shilov said it did not seem useful at this stage to question former President Leonid Kuchma.

8.02.2006 - “Melnichenko tapes” show involvement of many politicians in the case

Conversations taped in Kuchma’s office mentioned the names of several politicians who may be connected with Gongadze’s death. They include Kuchma himself, thought to have ordered his kidnap and murder along with Volodymyr Litvin, former head of the president’ office. Former presidential guard officer Mykola Melnichenko taped the conversations.

Other politicians believed to be involved are Evgeniy Marchuk, who chaired the national defence council at the time of the murder and said a few years ago he knew several things about the killing, Leonid Derkach, head of the security branch spying on Gongadze, and oligarch and MP Olexandr Volkov, a former Kuchma adviser.

6.02.2006 - Repeated adjournments hold up Gongadze murder trial

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the many interruptions and long adjournments that are slowing the progress of the trial of three policemen for the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000.

The most recent hearing, on 2 February, was adjourned because two of the defendants, Mykola Protassov and Oleksandr Popovitch, felt faint and the court had to seek first aid for them. Both suffer from high blood pressure. Judge Irina Grigoryeva suggested that their feeling faint was due in part to the presence of parliamentarians in the courtroom.

It was the second time that Protassov requested medical attention since he took the witness stand, and just the latest of many interruptions - in one case lasting two weeks - since the trial began on 9 January.

The next hearing, scheduled for 8 February, will be held behind closed doors after the judges once again rejected a request by the lawyer representing Lessia Gongadze (the victim’s mother) for the public to be allowed to attend.

25.01.2006 - Call for public trial of journalist’s accused killers

read in Russian

Reporters Without Borders called today for the trial of the suspected killers of journalist Georgiy Gongadze to be held in open court and expressed concern and surprise at a judge’s decision yesterday to hold it in secret.

Judge Irina Grigorieva also banned journalists from the courtroom, citing article 40 of the criminal code and said evidence likely to reveal state secrets may be heard behind closed doors. Questioning of the accused, arguments in the case and announcement of the verdict will all be in secret.

“Her decision is unacceptable and increases our fears about the handling of the case of Gongadze,” who was murdered in 2000, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “She admits the trial is highly political but refuses to provide all the openness it should have. The trial is a test for the country’s newfound democracy and its new president, Viktor Yushchenko, who made solving the case a priority. It now seems some of those implicated in the murder still have enough power to keep some of the evidence hidden.”

Yushchenko, who took office in January last year, promised last March he would speedily resolve the murder of Gongadze, who was editor of the online newspaper Ukraïnska Pravda. Three policemen accused of killing him - Valery Kostenko, Mykola Protassov and Oleksandr Popovitch - went on trial in Kiev on 9 January. But the hearing only lasted an hour because the judge said there was not enough space in the courtroom for any more than a few journalists. The next hearing was on 23 January.

Judge Grigoryeva also initially refused a request for senior officials such as former President Leonid Kuchma and current parliamentary speaker Volodymir Lytvyn to be called as witnesses. Kuchma and Lytvyn are among those suspected of giving the orders for Gongadze’s murder. The judge changed her mind on this point yesterday.

In this country
2 June - Ukraine
Potential witness’s death deals severe blow to probe into journalist’s murder
15 March - Ukraine
Three former policemen convicted of Gongadze murder but instigators have yet to identified
12 February - Ukraine
Gongadze murder trial resumes in Kiev
14 September - Ukraine
Political will lacking to solve Gongadze murder seven years after his death
27 August - Ukraine
Bomb hoax against Russian-language daily, photographer attacked

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