Thursday, November 24, 2011

Justice For Journalists: Time To Lift Veil Of Secrecy Surrounding Gongadze Case

LONDON, England -- ARTICLE 19 marked the first ever international day against impunity (23rd November) by holding a silent vigil outside the Ukraine, Belarus and Russian Embassies in London to highlight impunity for murdered journalists in those countries.

Members of ARTICLE 19 holding a silent vigil outside the Ukrainian Embassy in London, England.

In Ukraine, the high-profile kidnapping and killing of investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000 remains unresolved over ten years on.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Ukrainian authorities, in line with its obligations as a state party to the European Convention for Human Rights, to bring those who instigated his murder to justice.

The continuing impunity surrounding his kidnap and killing is in violation of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to life and the right not to be subject to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Strong public statements by several successive Ukrainian governments, numerous ongoing criminal investigations and even convictions have not resulted in holding the instigators of his murder to account.

After his death and over the past decade, the Ukrainian authorities focussed more on denying official involvement in Gongadze’s kidnapping and murder than on identifying those responsible for the crimes.

“The Gongadze kidnapping and murder is a landmark case for Ukraine. Over ten years on, it still weighs heavily on the journalistic community and society at large. No one has yet been convicted for giving the order for Gongadze's kidnapping, decapitation and murder. There appears to be little political will to solve the Gongadze case,” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly adopted on 27 January 2009 Resolution 1645 on the investigation of crimes allegedly committed by high officials during the Kuchma rule in Ukraine highlighting the Gongadze case as an emblematic example.

This Resolution calls on the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office to use all possible avenues of investigation to identify those who instigated and organised the murder of Georgiy Gongadze.

Current trial proceedings against a former general of the Ministry of Interior, Aleksei Pukach, alleged to have strangled and beheaded Gongadze, are held behind closed doors.

Despite repeated calls by his widow, Myroslava Gongadze,the judge presiding over the case decided that its content contains state secrets and should not be disclosed to the general public.

“Now is the time for the authorities to show their commitment to freedom of expression by bringing all of those responsible for his death to justice and lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding the trial. A closed trial hinders the transparency needed to get to the truth about who was ultimately responsible for his kidnapping and killing,” continued Callamard.

In a surprise move in March 2011, the Ukrainian General Prosecutors’ Office charged former President of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, who was in power in 2000, with abuse of power over the murder of Gongadze, which is alleged to have been linked to his instructions to Ministry of Interior officials.

However, as the statute of limitations passed in September 2010, he might be convicted but wouldn’t necessarily face time in prison.

The charges against the former president are viewed with scepticism and this particular action is seen by many as little more than window-dressing by the current authorities.

Background

On 16 September 2000, Ukrainian investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze disappeared; his body was found over six weeks later.

Gongadze had been investigating corruption within former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s inner circle. In the months leading to his death, Gongadze reported that he was under surveillance and had been receiving threats.

Source: ARTICLE 19

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