IFJ Fears “Sinister Intent” As Car Crash Raises New Questions Over Suspicious Media Deaths in Ukraine

The International Federation of Journalists has warned of “sinister intent” over the death in the Ukraine in suspicious circumstances of Yuriy Chechyk, a media chief who was trying to assist American broadcaster Radio Liberty.

He was killed in a car crash yesterday evening while en route to meet with executives of Radio Svoboda, Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian Service, about rebroadcasting the station’s programmes on the more accessible FM band. Radio Liberty’s FM service was dropped by Radio Dovira last month under suspicions of political pressure, and yesterday Radio Kontynent, which had taken over the broadcasting was suddenly closed down.

The death of Chechyk has shocked the media community. As director of Radio Yuta in Poltava, he was a key media figure in a crucial electoral battleground in national elections to be held in October.

“The government of Leonid Kuchma must clear the air over this and other killings,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “This is the latest high-profile victim of a road accident or death in bizarre circumstances in recent years. We must be sure he is not a victim of a more sinister intent.” A string of unsolved cases worries the IFJ:

  • The failure of the Kuchma government to resolve the murder of investigative journalist Georgy Gongadze, brutally killed three years ago after exposing government corruption.

  • The case of Vladimir Efremov, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Sobor who died in a car accident last year just before he was due to give evidence at the trial of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko accused of embezzlement.

  • The death in January last year of another journalist, Serhiy Naboka, a veteran reporter for Radio Liberty renowned for his hard-hitting journalism, who was found in a hotel room, apparently dead from “a blood clot.”

  • The bizarre death of journalist Volodimir Karachenzev, a reporter for Kuryerwho had received death threats for his articles exposing corruption, who was found hanged on the handle of a fridge in December 2003.

  • The death of Mikhailo Kolomiets, founder of the news agency Ukrainsky Novyny, who was found hanged in Belarus in October 2002. Friends say that his death was linked to his critical coverage of the Ukraine government.

    In addition, other high-profile opponents of the regime have died in suspicious car accidents in the last three years. “These deaths must be cleared up to the satisfaction of family, friends and colleagues,” said White. “If not the suspicion will grow that there is foul play. That would be a disaster for the Ukraine and for democracy in the country.”

    Further information: + 32 2 235 22 00

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