The unsolved case of Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze highlights concerns for press freedom in post-Soviet states
This article appears in Monday’s Media Guardian
Last Thursday marked the 10th anniversary of the kidnapping, torture and beheading of the Ukrainian internet journalist Georgiy Gongadze. A delegation from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) visited the Ukrainian embassy in London to demand a full investigation into his death and an end to “impunity” –– the persistent failure to pursue those guilty of crimes against media workers in the country.
Gongadze was known for his investigative reporting of government corruption. Aleksei Pukach, a gang leader, was arrested last summer and is awaiting trial for his murder. But Pukach claims he was ordered by the then internal affairs minister Yuri Kravchenko, who died in 2005, to kill Gongadze.
At Ten Years After, an international conference in Ukraine’s capital city Kiev last week marking the anniversary of Gongadze’s death and exploring new ways of “combating impunity”, the lawyer for his widow said more people are believed to have been involved in the murder.
According to the NUJ’s Simon Pirani, a former presidential bodyguard unearthed taped conversations between the president, Leonid Kuchma, and the parliamentary speaker, Volodymyr Lytvyn, about harming Gongadze that took place a few days before his death.
The need for further action has been highlighted recently by the disappearance and suspected murder of the Ukrainian journalist Vasily Klymentyev. Klymentev, the editor of the Kharkiv-based newspaper Novyi Stil, was well known for reporting on corruption amongst local officials and was last seen on 11 August.
There are worrying parallels with the Gongadze case. Klymentyev’s history of criticising local prosecutors, those now responsible for finding his killers, has raised concerns that the investigation may not be taken seriously. Furthermore, current and former law enforcement officials are suspected of involvement, according to the internal affairs minister, Vasily Mogilev.
But Ukraine is not the only post-Soviet state where impunity is posing a serious threat to press freedom. In 2005, the murder of the outspoken journalist Elmar Huseynov was described as Azerbaijan’s “own Gongadze“. Index on Censorship participated in a delegation last week demanding the prosecution of those responsible for his death.
More recently, the Belarusian journalist Oleg Bebenin was found dead just hours before he was due to meet Index on Censorship in Minsk. The authorities there have dismissed the death as suicide.
Priyanka Boghani and Lauren Davis write for Index on Censorship