Journalists Challenge Ukraine Prime Minister Over Gongadze and “Catalogue of Concerns” Facing Press

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White and Ukraine Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych in Brussels 18/05/04 © Oliver Money-Kyrle IFJ

The IFJ today confronted Ukraine Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on a visit to Brussels with a “catalogue of concerns” over problems facing journalists and threats to press freedom that should be eliminated before the country could be taken seriously as a democratic partner with the European Union.

Yanukovych, who is expected to be a leading candidate in coming Presidential elections, was asked about five unexplained deaths of journalists in recent years and some 40 incidents of intimidation against journalists and independent media in the past year alone, as well as recent steps to limit independent radio stations getting access to mainstream airwaves.

The continuing failure of the Government to make progress in the inquiry into the death of Gyorgy Gongadze, a journalist brutally murdered three years ago, remained an obstacle to confidence-building, says the IFJ. The case had become “pivotal” for media freedom in Europe and internationally.

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White asked Mr. Yanukovych whether he would support a new and independent inquiry into the Gongadze case and if he was ready to make the issue of press freedom and protection of journalists an issue in the coming presidential campaign.

“These issues are at the heart of the struggle for democracy and human rights and should be the confidence-building centrepiece of any the political manifesto,” he told the Prime Minister.

Gongadze disappeared on 16 September 2000 and his headless corpse was found subsequently in a ditch at Tarashcha, outside Kiev. In November of that year, a former bodyguard of the Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma, made public tape recordings of conversations in which the president and senior ministers apparently conspired to harm Gongadze. Although the Ukrainian general prosecutor has at various times arrested and questioned police and intelligence officers in connection with the case, the authorities have never examined the tape recordings or charged anyone with the murder.

International bodies including the European Union, Amnesty International and our own Federation, as well as commissions of the Ukrainian parliament that have followed the case, have repeatedly criticised the serious shortcomings of the investigation.

The IFJ has set up an inquiry commission to examine the apparent failure of legal and judicial processes in the Gongadze case and the reaction of institutions and civil society to the case.

The IFJ handed a letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to take steps to improve the situation for press freedom in Ukraine.

The Prime Minister responded by saying that “the investigations into the case of Gyorgy Gongadze must be absolutely fair and just if there is to be any chance to review and reveal the mystery behind the crime”. Mr. Yanukovych gave his assurances to Mr. White that he would fully support all initiatives concerning the principles of press freedom and democracy in the run-in to elections later this year.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries