President Victor Yushchenko
Fax: +380 44 255 75 71
22 March 2007
Dear Mr. President,
The International Federation of Journalists, representing over 500,000 journalists all over the world, is writing to urge you to withdraw your recent decree awarding the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise to Mykhaylo Potebenko, one of the people responsible for the shoddy investigation into the death of the journalist Georgiy Gongadze.
On February 17, 2007 you signed a decree awarding the prize to Mr. Potebenko, an adviser to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine. As you know, he was the head of the General Prosecutor Office of Ukraine from 1998 to 2002. During that time, our colleague Georgiy appealed to the office for help because he thought he was being followed. The Prosecutor General failed to reply to the journalist’s request much less provide any kind of protection for him. Soon after he was kidnapped and murdered, allegedly by law enforcement officers. Three of his attackers are now on trial, as you know.
The General Prosecutor’s Office is responsible for protecting Ukrainian citizens and by failing to react to Georgiy’s request, Mr. Potebenko is culpable for our colleague’s tragic death. After Georgiy went missing, Mr. Potebenko ran the failed investigation into his murder.
The failure of the Ukrainian prosecutors to make a full investigation into this murder has contributed to an atmosphere where the significant improvements in media freedom established in the immediate aftermath of the 2004 Presidential election are being eroded.
In a case brought before the European Court of Human Rights by Georgiy’s widow, judges ruled that Articles 2 and 3 of European Convention of Human Rights were broken by the Ukrainian government in respect of Gyorgiy’s death. The court said that Mr. Potebenko’s failure to proceed with a full and honest investigation into Georgiy’s murder was a breach of the human rights of our colleague’s close friends and family.
The ruling should have prompted Ukraine to start an official internal investigation to call to account the people responsible for the sham investigation of the Gongadze case. But instead the government has awarded an honour to one of the key figures in the botched investigation.
The IFJ believes that the disregard for Georgiy’s plea for protection as well as the botched investigation into his death are an outrage to those working for democracy, the rule of law and media freedom in Ukraine. We, along with numerous Ukrainian journalists and press freedom organizations, ask you, Mr. President, to withdraw this honour for Mykhaylo Potebenko to show the country and the world that you are committed to a free press and protecting journalists.
International Federation of Journalists