The murder of journalist Pavel Sheremet continues to be shrouded in mystery

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”103553″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]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 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.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1556881896863-0ee92b86-a4fa-7″ taxonomies=”8568″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

No impunity: Who killed journalist Pavel Shemeret?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”103553″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]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.

Sheremet had just left his home in Kyiv, Ukriane the morning of July 20, on his way to Radio Vesti’s offices to host his morning show. He’d only driven a few hundred feet when the car exploded, and he was dead.

Ukraine’s prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, called the news “terrible” on the day of Sheremet’s death, and other Ukrainian officials said they were dedicated to solving the murder. An investigation was launched. But, even two years later, no arrests have been made and no police leads have been made public. Any developments in the investigation have been kept quiet, and many journalists have taken the case into their own hands.

A documentary titled “Killing Pavel,” released in May 2017 by two investigative journalism organisations, highlighted the gaps of Ukraine’s official investigation, in addition to showing footage from security cameras outside Sheremet’s apartment building. They identified a former member of the SBU, Ukraine’s security agency, outside the building the night before Sheremet’s death. The SBU is one of the organisations tasked with investigating the murder.

The discovery obviously led to questions. Though the former SBU agent denied involvement in the murder, authorities have not stated why he was there that night.

Two months later, the CPJ published an investigative report into Sheremet’s death and found that Ukraine’s primary line of questioning was focused on Russian involvement, though the country has not given evidence of their interference.

Meanwhile, the police chief in charge of the investigation resigned due to obstruction by her superiors, and police and security service officials are pointing fingers at each other for destruction of video evidence.

In the same report, the CPJ said that 35 Ukrainian investigators were working on the case, along with three state prosecutors, and conducting 1,800 interviews and reviewing 150 terabytes of video footage. Yet no suspects have been identified, even with security camera footage showing two people planting the bomb under Sheremet’s car and a clear photograph of one of the assassins.

The CPJ said the possibility of Ukrainian involvement “casts doubt on the credibility of the official investigation,” and recommended the Ukrainian president invite an “independent international inquiry” to ensure accountability. Though the president said he would accept such an investigator, no action has been taken.

The failure by the Ukranian government to properly investigate Sheremet’s death and to quickly place the blame on Russia has not gone unnoticed. They have been criticised by a number of human rights organisations and advocacy groups, including Index.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Additional reporting by Gillian Trudeau[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”96085″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb near her home in Bidniji, Malta. Caruana Galizia reported on high-profile corruption investigations and had been sued multiple times. She filed a police report 15 days before the attack saying she was receiving death threats. Two months after the murder, 10 people were detained in connection with Galizia’s death. Three are now awaiting trial and have entered not guilty pleas. The magistrate will decide whether to excuse the men or take them into prosecution in front of a judge and jury. In the meantime, The Daphne Project is dedicated to investigating Galizia’s death and carrying on her work.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”98320″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Ján Kuciak, a Slovakian investigative journalist, and his fiance were shot dead in their home on 21 February 2018. Kuciak was reporting on tax fraud among businessmen connected to the country’s ruling party. He had previously filed a complaint against businessman Marian Kočner, who was allegedly connected with the bankruptcy of Real Štúdio KFA. A month after the murders, on 27 March, investigators examined the crime scene but found no evidence. On 27 September, police detained eight people connected to Kuciak’s murder. Among them were Tomáš S, Miroslav M and Alena Z. Alena Z is said to have worked as an Italian-Slovak interpreter for businessman Marian Kočner. A sum of €70,000 was paid for the contract killing of Kuciak, prosecutor general Jaromír Čižnár said, according to Slovak newspaper Sme. Sme quoted Čižnár who stated that it is still unclear who ordered the contract killing and would not confirm or deny if Marian Kočner is a lead suspect, but said further charges could be made in the case. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1541160123163-ad0ff09d-ff03-10″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Ekaterina Sergatskova: It’s a hard time for journalism in Ukraine

Russian and Ukrainian investigative journalist Ekaterina Sergatskova met with Index to discuss her experiences reporting on the conflicts in Iraq and Ukraine.

In 2014, Ukraine saw political and civil unrest amidst conflicting pro-Europe and pro-Russia disputes. The 2014 Ukrainian revolution both stemmed from and perpetuated this unrest, as most of southern and eastern Ukraine opposed the ousting of the democratically elected president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Sergatskova, a reporter on this issue, explains that the conflict made for a harsh environment for journalists: “It is a really hard period of journalism in Ukraine and it is continuing.”

In 2016, a group of hackers released personal contact information of journalists that were considered threatening to the Ukrainian government, including Sergatskova. Following the leak, she received death threats.

Three months after the leak, journalist Pavel Sheremet — a friend and colleague of Sergatskova — was murdered in a crime that is believed to be linked to his reporting. After a year and a half, Sergatskova says, there are still have no answers.

The journalist says that following such incidents, she and her colleagues feel unsafe but nevertheless will persist in their reporting: “We have a lot of really good investigators and they will not stop … because it’s their mission. We’re afraid of it, but we have only one way to save our country, to develop, to be a normal country with normal rules, we need to do our work.”

Groups urge Ukraine to ensure thorough investigation in killing of journalist Pavel Sheremet

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]His Excellency Petro Poroshenko
President of Ukraine
11 Bankova Street
Kiev 01220
CC: Yuriy Stets, Minister of Information Policy

Dear President Poroshenko,

Pavel Sheremet (Photo: Ukrainska Pravda)

Pavel Sheremet (Photo: Ukrainska Pravda)

We are writing as active partners of the Council of Europe’s Platform to protect journalism and safety of journalists to urge you to ensure that Ukrainian investigating authorities carry out a thorough, independent, and effective investigation into the murder a year ago in Kiev of prominent Belarusian-born journalist Pavel Sheremet.

Sheremet’s killing in a car bombing in Ukraine’s capital city on July 20, 2016, cast a chill over the country’s press corps, and the ongoing impunity for those behind the crime has continued to affect journalists’ ability to cover sensitive subjects.

The current investigation by Ukrainian authorities, including the General Prosecutor’s Office (GPO), National Police, and Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), has produced no results a year after the killing, as confirmed by Committee to Protect Journalists’ recent report, Justice Denied: Ukraine comes up empty in probe of Pavel Sheremet’s murder, which CPJ launched in Kiev last week. Moreover, as CPJ confirmed during its advocacy mission that week–including in a July 11, 2017, meeting with you—authorities currently have no suspects and no leading motive for the murder.

Independent, enterprising journalists in Ukraine work under hostile conditions filled with threats, harassment, and cyberbullying in retaliation for their critical coverage of government policies and the conflict between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian security forces in the country’s east. A number of journalists have said they work in fear, both because of the impunity in Sheremet’s killing and authorities’ failure to recognise the importance of a critical, independent press in a democratic society.

The report on Sheremet’s murder brought into relief a number of flaws in the official investigation that need to be addressed without delay. Crucial video evidence that showcased potential suspects or key witnesses of the crime surfaced only after Ukrainian journalists—not investigators—published it. No one has publicly identified two persons seen on security camera footage apparently planting the bomb under Sheremet’s vehicle, although investigators are in possession of a clear photograph of one of the individuals.

The report also found that police and security service officials have each alleged that the other destroyed video evidence; potential witnesses and Pavel Sheremet’s colleagues say investigators have not closely questioned them; and the national police chief first tasked with leading the murder investigation resigned, citing obstruction by her superiors.

Pavel Sheremet and his former Ukrainska Pravda colleagues were under surveillance in the months before his death, but it is unclear by whom, or why. We are very concerned for their safety, especially given that it remains unclear whether the fact of the surveillance is currently being investigated.

The confirmed presence of a former SBU agent, Igor Ustimenko, near Sheremet’s apartment the very night assassins planted the bomb under his car—and the ongoing lack of clarity about the reasons and circumstances of his presence—further raise doubts about the genuineness and thoroughness of the official investigation.

The authorities were unable to provide clear answers to pressing concerns, including to such basic procedural questions as who is in charge of the investigation or why the photo of the person seen on camera footage apparently planting the bomb has not been publicly disclosed. We hope that these issues can be addressed immediately.

Press freedom concerns, including the lack of progress in Sheremet’s murder investigation, were also raised during meetings between the partners of the Council of Europe’s Platform to protect journalism and safety of journalists, and Ukrainian investigating authorities on April 4-5, 2017.

We encourage you, Mr. President, to ensure that the investigation into Sheremet’s killing examines the possibility that Ukrainian officials—former or current—may have been involved. In order to do that, we ask you to consider independent oversight of this case, which is a litmus test not only for Ukraine’s commitment to press freedom but also for its adherence to the rule of law.

We are pleased to learn that during your July 11 meeting with CPJ, you made a commitment to invite an international criminal investigator to support the Ukrainian investigation into Sheremet’s murder. We hope that discussions on this initiative will take place between Ukraine and its international partners without delay, and we encourage you to immediately contact Ukraine’s partners, including the Delegation of the European Union in Kiev, in relation to that.

Lastly, we strongly urge you to take all measures to protect the space for critical and independent journalism, including by condemning the practice of dividing journalists into patriotic and unpatriotic; and by ensuring that reporters can work freely, without fear of reprisal, and with the full protection of the state. Publicly addressing Pavel Sheremet’s colleagues at Ukrainska Pravda on the anniversary of his murder, and making a commitment to defending their safety, would be an exemplary first step toward achieving that goal.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of these urgent matters. We await your response.


Article 19

Association of European Journalists (AEJ)

Committee to Protect Journalists

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Index on Censorship

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

International Press Institute (IPI)

International News Safety Institute (INSI)

Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_custom_heading text=”Ukraine” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:30|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in Ukraine and 41 other European area countries.

As of 20/07/2017, there were 284 verified reports of violations connected to Ukraine in the Mapping Media Freedom database.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”94485″ img_size=”full” onclick=”custom_link” link=””][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]