The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the decision of judges in Kiev to ban the press and public from the trial of three men charged with the abduction and murder of investigative journalist Gyorgy Gongadze over five years ago.
The IFJ says the action is “judicial and political censorship” of evidence implicating officials in the Ukraine at the highest level in the assassination of Gongadze.
The trial judge Irina Grigoryeva has banned press and public from hearing evidence from defendants and government security agents. “This is a scandalous cover-up that undermines the credibility of the court action and casts a shadow over democracy in the Ukraine,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “People need to know the truth about who ordered the killing of this journalist, but instead they are subject to judicial and political censorship.”
The trial of ex-policemen Valery Kostenko, Nikolai Protasov, and Aleksandr Popovych resumed this week after a two-week delay caused by the sudden illness of Protasov at the trial opening. His lawyer argued that the illness was brought on by the presence of media in the court room.
The IFJ, which has been campaigning with other press freedom groups and the Gongadze family for justice in this case following years of incompetent official investigation and delay amidst allegations that former Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma was implicated in the killing.
“A secret trial undermines the integrity of the process and casts a shadow over democracy in the Ukraine,” said |White. “The people have a right to know exactly what happened and who was involved.”
The three defendants face charges of murder and abuse of power in the killing of Gongadze, who was editor of the independent Internet news site Ukrainska Pravda. But observers are convinced others are involved and the prosecutor general's office says it is continuing to search for people who ordered the killing.
The Gongadze case was among the issues driving the popular uprising in late 2004 that ousted former President Leonid Kuchma. There were allegations that his corrupt government was involved in the Gongadze murder and in September a parliamentary commission accused Kuchma, the late Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, Parliament Speaker Vladimir Litvin, and former Ukrainian Security Services chief Leonid Derkach of plotting the journalist's murder.
Key to the allegations are tapes made secretly by a former presidential bodyguard in which Kuchma is allegedly heard instructing Kravchenko “to give Gongadze to the Chechens.” Although the commission said prosecutors should charge Kuchma, Litvin, and Derkach, the findings have not been acted upon.
“These allegations are too explosive to be kept secret,” said White. “Once and for all these matters must be tested in open court. Justice for Gyorgy Gongadze depends upon it.”
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries