Secret Trial Denies Gongadze Justice

KIEV, Ukraine -- On March 15, 2008, the Kyiv Appellate Court found three former policemen guilty of the kidnapping and killing of the journalist Georgiy Gongadze on September 16 to 17, 2000.

Ex-President Leonid Kuchma is accused of ordering the kidnapping of the journalist that became a murder.

Mykola Protasov received 13 years in prison, while Valeriy Kostenko and Oleksandr Popovych got 12 years each.

The verdict accused their police commander, Oleksiy Pukach, of directing the murder, but he received no sentence on account of his disappearance.

This was Ukraine’s most controversial unlawful killing, as no less than former President Leonid Kuchma is accused of ordering the kidnapping of the journalist that became a murder.

This trial could not take place while Kuchma was president of Ukraine.

After Gongadze’s disappearance, the president, along with the police and prosecution service, created a web of lies about what happened to Gongadze, including that he had run away, the headless corpse wasn’t his, and that they had organized Ukraine’s biggest ever missing person’s search.

The only attempt during Kuchma’s tenure in office to prosecute Pukach took place on Oct. 22, 2003, when the police commander was arrested. The arrest took place while Kuchma was on a state visit to South America. On the president’s return, a judge released Pukach from jail.

Justice for Gongadze had to wait until after the Orange Revolution.

On Jan. 27, 2005, four days after the inauguration of President Viktor Yushchenko, the policemen whose identity was known earlier by the Security Service of Ukraine and Prosecutor General’s Office were arrested and confessed to taking part in the kidnapping and killing of Gongadze.

Pukach disappeared just before Yushchenko’s inauguration.

Since the policemen had confessed, why did it take three years to reach a verdict? The verdict given by the judge Irena Hryhorieva on March 15, 2008 was based almost entirely on the confessions of the three policemen.

Since 2005, these confessions have been available on video and transcript on the Internet (

Comparing the verdict with the case’s detailed presentation by prosecution investigator Roman Shubin, which appeared on Dec. 23, 2005 in the Kyiv newspaper Segodnya, provides further evidence that the court stretched out the proceedings.

Assuming that the court was not incompetent, one can assume that political pressure came from Yushchenko’s office to prolong the trial as long as possible.

On March 1, 2005, Yushchenko, announcing the arrest of the three policemen, promised the organizers would also be brought to justice.

Three days later, one of the alleged organizers, former Minister of Internal Affairs Yuriy Kravchenko, committed suicide.

Following this dreadful event, Yushchenko backed away from putting on trial the two chief suspects in organizing Gongadze’s kidnapping -- Kuchma and head of his Presidential Administration, Volodymyr Lytvyn.

The president’s office now hoped that the longer the verdict was postponed, the more irrelevant the case would become, and that the public would forget that the organizers of the crime were not on trial.

Judging from the minimal coverage of the verdict in Ukraine’s mass media, the president’s office succeeded in having the media forget that the alleged organizers of Gongadze’s murder are still at liberty.

The media has been almost silent over the fact that most of the trial was held in secret, and reminiscent of past Soviet political trials, and against the country’s Constitution.

Article 129, point 7, of Ukraine’s Constitution provides the “openness of a trial and its complete recording by technical means.”

Most of the policemen’s trial was kept secret to maintain people’s ignorance of the state’s political surveillance, and specifically how it was carried out against Gongadze.

In the summer of 2000, up to 30 secret police agents were used to spy on Gongadze. On the day of his disappearance, 15 undercover policemen were used to track his movements. With four of them kidnapping him, the others watched.

Besides being unlawful, this was a huge state expenditure on a journalist whose articles appeared on the Internet, which very few had access to in the year 2000, and whose only “crime” was his right to write critical articles about the president and his immediate circle.

The decision to try the three policemen in secret was sadly supported by the journalist’s widow, Myroslava Gongadze.

She should have withdrawn her lawyer from the trial like Gongadze’s mother did. Such a united stand would bare to the world the sham of the secret proceedings.

The consequence of this prolonged and secret trial is that the killers who confessed are in prison, while the organizers who lied are free.

Source: Kyiv Post