MEDIA FREEDOM
The murder of journalist Pavel Sheremet continues to be shrouded in mystery
03 May 2019
BY SUMMER DOSCH
Pavel Sheremet (Photo: Ukrainska Pravda)

The investigation into the July 2016 murder of Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet in Kyiv, Ukraine continues to be shrouded in mystery. Ukrainian authorities have remained silent, releasing no new information since July 2017.

“The authorities in Ukraine must ensure that there is a fully transparent investigation and they must do their utmost to make real progress,” Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship said. “There are now too many unanswered questions related to the murder of Pavel Sheremet. The murder cannot be allowed to go unpunished.”

Journalists from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, in partnership with Slistvo.info studied a number of leads on the case and analysed footage from more than 50 different surveillance cameras. They used their findings to create an investigative documentary called “Killing Pavel” which later won the IRE Medal, the highest honour that can be received for investigative journalism. One of the most significant findings detailed in the documentary, which was released in May 2017, was the revelation that a former Ukrainian secret service agent and two unidentified individuals were present outside Sheremet’s apartment when the explosives were planted under his car.

Petro Poroshenko, the former president of Ukraine, said in July 2016 that justice for Sheremet’s murder was a “matter of honour” and that the case would be treated with utmost priority. However, he has failed to follow through on this bold statement. Ambassadors from the USA, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan have emphasised “the importance of continuing the investigation” in order to bring those responsible to justice. Pressures from other countries, human rights organisations and journalists rights groups, have had little effect on the overall progress of the investigation.

Sheremet, who primarily covered political figures, received considerable recognition for his work exposing corruption in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. According to a letter from Olena Prytula, his partner and the owner of the Ukrainska Pravda news site, to the prosecutor general Yury Lutsenko, Sheremet “was stripped of his Belarusian citizenship due to his criticism of the Belarusian government”. In addition to spending three months in prison for speaking out against the government of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Sheremet’s Belarusian cameraman, Dzmitry Zavandski was also kidnapped and killed in 2000 after returning to Belarus from a reporting trip in Russia.

The presidents of Ukraine and Belarus met on 20 June 2017 to solely discuss “economic co-operation” between the two countries. However, this meeting was highly criticised by journalists for being held on the first anniversary of Sheremet’s murder and the honours with which Lukashenko was received by Poroshenko.

Poroshenko’s support of Lukashenko and his desire to establish closer relations with Belarus conflicted with the promises he made to attack corruption, and bring resolve to Sheremet’s case. Mustafa Nayyem, a Ukrainian journalist and the co-founder of the Hromadske Network, criticised Poroshenko for praising Lukashenko, whose acts of corruption and crimes against human rights directly tie him to Sheremet’s case. In a Facebook post that later received substantial support from the public, Nayyem wrote that Lukashenko “destroyed freedom of speech in his country, under whom hundreds of journalists have disappeared or been jailed” and emphasised the fact that it was “the very same Lukashenko under whom Pavel was sent to pretrial detention and his friend and cameraman was brutally murdered”.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a Ukrainian comedian who defeated Poroshenko in the Ukraine presidential election on 21 April 2019 by a landslide winning 73% of vote, has repeatedly denounced corruption and has promised to expel it from the Ukrainian government; however he has not yet addressed the future development of Sheremet’s case or any other unsolved cases. Although Sheremet’s case has been ignored for almost three years, it has not been forgotten.  

On the second anniversary of Sheremet’s murder, Marie Yovanovitch, the US ambassador to Ukraine, said in an interview for Radio Liberty that Sheremet “played an immensely important role here in Ukraine, in terms of finding out what was happening and presenting it to the Ukrainian people so that they could make their own decisions about the situation in the Ukraine”. Furthermore, she emphasised the importance behind the renewal of the investigation, and stated that the “Ukrainian people deserve to know the truth about what happened”. However, the truth continues to be sidestepped regardless of continual demands from country ambassadors, human rights organisations, journalists and the Ukrainian community for justice.

No impunity: Who killed journalist Pavel Shemeret?

Before his death, Pavel Sheremet was one of Ukraine’s leading investigative journalists. He most notably investigated government corruption and border smuggling in his native Belarus, leading to his arrest in 1997 but winning him CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in the process. He was detained, harassed and arrested because of his work. Then, in 2016, he was assassinated. And Ukrainian authorities still have not uncovered who’s to blame.

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