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Georgiy Gongadze
Георгій Русланович Ґонґадзе
გიორგი ღონღაძე
Georgi gongadse.jpg
Georgiy Ruslanovich Gongadze
Born Georgiy Ruslanovich Gongadze
21 May 1969
Tbilisi, Georgian SSR, Soviet Union
Died September 16, 2000 (aged 31) (Date of disappearance; exact date of death unknown)
Unknown location, Ukraine
Education Lviv University
Occupation Journalist
Spouse(s) Myroslava Gongadze (widow)
Children 2 daughters
Ethnicity Georgian

Georgiy Ruslanovich Gongadze (Ukrainian: Георгій Русланович Ґонґадзе, Heorhiy Ruslanovych Gongadze; Georgian: გიორგი ღონღაძე; 21 May 1969 – 17 September 2000 [1]) was a Ukrainian journalist of Georgian origin who was kidnapped and murdered in 2000.

The circumstances of his death became a national scandal and a focus for protests against the government of the then President, Leonid Kuchma. During the Cassette Scandal, audiotapes were released on which Kuchma, Volodymyr Lytvyn and other top-level administration officials are allegedly heard discussing the need to silence Gongadze for his online news reports about high-level corruption. Former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko died of two gunshots to the head on March 4, 2005, just hours before he was to begin providing testimony as a witness in the case. Kravchenko was the superior of the four policeman who were charged with Gongadze's murder soon after Kravchenko's death.[2] The official ruling of suicide was doubted by media reports.[2]

Three former officials of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry's foreign surveillance department and criminal intelligence unit[3] (Valeriy Kostenko, Mykola Protasov and Oleksandr Popovych) accused of his murder were arrested in March 2005 and a fourth one (Oleksiy Pukach, the former chief of the unit[3]) in July 2009.[4] A court in Ukraine sentenced Protasov to a sentence of 13 years and Kostenko and Popovych to 12-year terms March 2008 (the trial had begun January 2006[5]) for the murder. Gongadze's family believe the trial had failed to bring the masterminds behind the killing to justice.[6] No one has yet been charged with giving the order for Gongadze's murder.[5]

Gongadze's widow Myroslava Gongadze and their two children received political asylum in the United States and have lived there since 2001.

Contents

Career

Born in Tbilisi, Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, Gongadze was the son of a Georgian politician father and a Ukrainian nurse mother. He was educated at the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv in western Ukraine. His mother Lesya was born there and lives in Lviv now. He became a successful journalist, first in Georgia (where he reported on the conflict in Abkhazia) and then in Ukraine. He worked for the Kiev-based radio station Kontynent, on which he had his own show called First round with Heorhiy Gongadze. His strongly independent line soon attracted hostility from the increasingly authoritarian government of Leonid Kuchma; during the October 1999 presidential election, his commentaries prompted a call from Kuchma's headquarters to say "that he had been blacklisted to be dealt with after the election." Visiting New York in January 2000 with other Ukrainian journalists, he warned of "the strangulation of the freedom of speech and information in our state."

In April 2000, Gongadze co-founded a news website, Ukrayinska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth), as a means of sidestepping the government's increasing influence over the mainstream media. He observed that following the muzzling of a prominent pro-opposition newspaper after the election, "today there is practically no objective information available about Ukraine". The website specialized in political news and commentary, focusing particularly on President Kuchma, the country's wealthy "oligarchs" and the official media.

In June 2000, Gongadze wrote an open letter to Ukraine's chief prosecutor about harassment from the SBU, the Ukrainian secret police, directed towards himself and his Ukrayinska Pravda colleagues and apparently related to an investigation into a murder case in the southern port of Odessa. He complained that had been forced into hiding because of harassment from the secret police, that he said he and his family were being followed, that his staff were being harassed, and that the SBU were spreading a rumor that he was wanted on a murder charge.[7]

Disappearance and investigations

Gongadze disappeared on 16 September 2000, after failing to return home. Foul play was suspected from the outset. The matter immediately attracted widespread public attention and media interest. 80 journalists signed an open letter to President Kuchma urging an investigation and complaining that "during the years of Ukrainian independence, not a single high-profile crime against journalists has been fully resolved." Kuchma responded by ordering an immediate inquiry. This was, however, viewed with some skepticism. Opposition politician Hryhoriy Omelchenko reported that the disappearance had coincided with Gongadze receiving documents on corruption within the president's own entourage. The Ukrainian Parliament set up a parallel inquiry run by a special commission. Neither investigation produced any results.

Gongadze tried to be like a normal reporter, he didn't try to be a hero. But in Ukraine it's a brave activity being a journalist.
—Serhiy Leshchenko, Ukrayinska Pravda editor (September 2004).[8]

Two months later, on 3 November 2000, a body was found in a forest in the Taraschanskyi Raion (district) of the Kiev Oblast (province), some 70 km (40 miles) outside Kiev. The corpse had been decapitated and doused in dioxine, apparently to make identification more difficult; forensic investigations found that the dioxine bath and decapitation had occurred while the victim was still alive. The Russian-edited Ukrainian newspaper Segodnya ("Today") reported that Gongadze had been abducted by policemen and accidentally shot in the head while seated in a vehicle, necessitating his decapitation (to avoid the bullet being recovered and matched to a police weapon). His body had been doused in petrol which had failed to burn properly, and had then been dumped.[9] A group of journalists first identified it as being that of Gongadze, a finding confirmed a few weeks later by his wife Myroslava. In a bizarre twist, the corpse was then confiscated by the police and resurfaced in a morgue in Kiev. The authorities did not officially acknowledge that the body was that of Gongadze until the following February and did not definitively confirm it until as late as March 2003. The body was eventually identified and was to be returned to Gongadze's family to be buried two years after his disappearance. However, the funeral never took place. As of 23 June 2006 Gongadze's mother refused to accept the remains offered as it was not the body of her son.[10] While visiting Kiev in July 2006, Gongadze's widow Myroslava emphasized that the funeral had become now a solemnly family issue, and the date of the funeral would soon be appointed.

On 28 November 2000, opposition politician Oleksandr Moroz publicized secret tape recordings which he claimed implicated President Kuchma in Gongadze's murder. The recordings were said to be of discussions between Kuchma, presidential chief of staff Volodymyr Lytvyn, and Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and were claimed to have been provided by an unnamed SBU officer (later named as Major Mykola Mel'nychenko, Kuchma's bodyguard). The conversations included comments expressing annoyance at Gongadze's writings as well as discussions of ways to shut him up, such as deporting him and arranging from him to be kidnapped and taken to Chechnya. Killing him was, however, not mentioned and doubt was cast on the tapes' authenticity, as the quality of the recordings was poor. Moroz told the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada (parliament) that "the professionally organized disappearance, a slow-moving investigation, disregard for the most essential elements of investigation and incoherent comments by police officials suggest that the case was put together."

The affair became a major political scandal (referred to in Ukraine as the "Cassette Scandal" or "Tapegate"). Kuchma strongly denied Moroz's accusations and threatened a libel suit, blaming the tapes on foreign agents. He later acknowledged that his voice was indeed one of those on the tapes, but claimed that they had been selectively edited to distort his meaning.

Crises and controversy

The affair became an international crisis for the Ukrainian government during 2001, with the European Union expressing dissatisfaction at the official investigation, rumors of Ukrainian suspension from the Council of Europe, and censure from the OSCE, which described Gongadze's death as a case of "censorship by killing" and castigated the "extremely unprofessional" investigation.[11] Mass demonstrations erupted in Kiev in February 2001, calling for the resignation of Kuchma and the dismissal of other key officials. He did sack the head of the SBU, Leonid Derkach, and the chief of the presidential bodyguard, Volodymyr Shepel, but refused to step down.[11] The government invited the US FBI to investigate, though it does not appear that this offer was ever taken up. The protests were eventually forcibly broken up by the police.

In May 2001, interior minister Yuri Smirnov announced that the murder had been solved—it was attributed to a random act of violence committed by two "hooligans" with links to a gangster called "Cyclops". Both of the killers were said to now be dead. The claim was dismissed by the opposition and by the government's own prosecutor-general, whose office issued a statement denying Smirnov's claims.[12]

Mass protests again broke out in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities in September 2002 to mark the second anniversary of Gongadze's death. The demonstrators again called for Kuchma's resignation but the protests again failed to achieve their goal, with police breaking up the protesters' camp.

The prosecutor of the Tarascha district, where Gongadze's body was found, was convicted in May 2003 for abuse of office and falsification of evidence. Serhiy Obozov was found guilty of forging documents and negligence in the investigation and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. However, he was immediately released due to a provision of Ukraine's amnesty laws.[13]

In June 2004, the government claimed that a convicted gangster identified only as "K" had confessed to Gongadze's murder, although there was no independent confirmation of the claim. The ongoing investigation received a setback when a key witness died of spinal injuries apparently sustained while in police custody.[14]

Gongadze's death became a major issue in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, in which the opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko pledged to solve the case if he became president. Yushchenko did become president following the subsequent Orange Revolution and immediately launched a new investigation, replacing the country's prosecutor-general.

The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly adopted on January 27, 2009 Resolution 1645 on the investigation of crimes allegedly committed by high officials during the Kuchma rule in Ukraine – the Gongadze case as an emblematic example. This Resolution calls on the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office to use all possible avenues of investigation to identify those who instigated and organised the murder of Giorgiy Gongadze.[15]

Arrests and trials

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Arrest and trial of three former policemen and death of Kravchenko

On 1 March 2005, Yushchenko announced that the journalist's suspected killers had been arrested.[16] Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun announced the following day that the case had been solved, telling Ukrainian television that Gongadze had been strangled by employees of the Interior Ministry. Two of the alleged killers were said to be senior policemen working for the Interior Ministry's criminal investigations directorate (CID).[17] Former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, one of those recorded with Leonid Kuchma in the Cassette Scandal, was also said to be under investigation. The two police colonels accused of the killing have been detained and a third senior policeman, identified as CID commander Oleksiy Pukach, was being sought on an international arrest warrant.

On 4 March, Yuri Kravchenko was found dead in a dacha in the elite residential area of Koncha-Zaspa, outside Kiev. He had died from apparently self-inflicted gunshot wounds, though some speculated that he might have been assassinated to prevent him from testifying as a witness. Hryhory Omelchenko, who chaired the parliamentary committee that investigated the Gongadze case, told the New York Times that Kravchenko had ordered Pukach to abduct Gongadze on President Kuchma's orders. Kuchma himself has denied this allegation but has since been interviewed by investigators. Kravchenko left an alleged suicide note: “My dear ones, I am not guilty of anything. Forgive me, for I became a victim of the political intrigues of President Kuchma and his entourage. I am leaving you with a clear conscious, farewell.”[2]

In April/May 2005, Piskun released more details of the ongoing investigation. He told the press that after Gongadze was murdered, a second group disinterred him and re-buried him where he was eventually found, in the constituency of Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. According to Piskun, the aim was to undermine the government (led by Viktor Yushchenko when he was still Prime Minister). The second group was part of or allied with the United Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (SDPUo), a pro-oligarch grouping which had been hit hard by Yushchenko's crackdown on corruption and therefore wanted to see his government toppled. According to the journal Ukrayina moloda (14 April 2005), the SDPUo moved Gongadze in order to discredit President Leonid Kuchma and force early elections, which could have led to party leader Medvedchuk succeeding Kuchma.

The trial against the three former policemen charged with the killing of Georgiy Gongadze started on January 9, 2006. The other main suspect, ex-police officer, Oleksiy Pukach was believed to have fled abroad and therefore charged but not on trial. No-one had been charged for ordering the murder. On the day the trial started Gongadze's widow Myroslava Gongadze commented on the fact that no-one has been charged for the killing: "They are known and they should be punished just the same as those who will be sitting in the dock today".

In mid March 2008, the three former police officers where sentenced to prison for the actual act of murder of Gongadze. Mykola Protasovwas given a sentence of 13 years, while Valeriy Kostenko and Oleksandr Popovych were each handed 12-year terms. But so far the investigations have failed to show who ordered the murder.[6]

Arrest of Oleksiy Pukach

On July 22, 2009 Oleksiy Pukach, one of the chief suspects, was arrested in Ukraine's Zhytomyr Oblast[18][19]. The former chief of the main criminal investigation department at the Ukrainian Interior Ministry's foreign surveillance unit[3] had lived in the house of Lidia Zagorulko who had told her neighbours that Pukach was the brother of her dead husband and that he was a former sea captain[20]. Pukach had lived there with his real second name and original documents[21]. At first it was reported and that he had implicated senior political figures in the murder[22] and was ready to show the place where the journalist's head was hidden, but this was denied two days after his arrest by his lawyer[23]. According to the lawyer "for the time being" Pukach was not intended to provide this information to the investigators[23]. Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko refused to comment whether Pukach named those who ordered the murder or not, saying a "secret investigation" was underway[3].

On July 28, 2009 Ukrainian media reported that the remains of Gongadze's skull were found near Bila Tserkva, in a location specified by Pukach.[24] According to the Prosecutor's General Office they did found fragments of a skull there which may belong to Gongadze.[4][25]

A request by Gongadze's widow, Myroslava Gongadze, to replace deputy prosecutor general Mykola Holomsha and investigator Oleksandr Kharchenko, because of their insufficient professionalism and because they were unable to withstand political pressure and speculation surrounding the case[26], was rejected on July 30, 2009.[27] A request by Gongadze to replace Pukach's lawyer was also denied on October 28, 2009.[28]

On November 20, 2009 Gongadze's mother Lesya gave consent to an examination of fragments of the skull found end-July 2009 under the condition she could take fragments of the skull for private DNA examination she plans to conduct at a private foreign laboratory after the 2010 Ukrainian presidential election.[29]

On December 3, 2009 Pukach's detention was extended by two months.[30]

On December 6, 2009 Mykola Melnychenko accused Volodymyr Lytvyn of ordering the murder of Gongadze in 2000. Melnychenko offered no proof to back up the claim. A spokesperson for Lytvyn dismissed the claims as part of the 2010 Ukrainian presidential election campaign.[31]

Remembrance

In June 2005 Kiev's Industrialnaya Street was renamed Georgy Gongadze Street.[32] August 2008 a monument to journalist Gongadze and all journalists killed for their professional activities was opened in Kiev in a park in Chervonoarmiyska street[33], but Gongadze's mother, Lesya Gongadze, was against erecting a monument until the investigation is completed[34]. A literary token of respect for the work and courage of Gongadze is to be found in the novel for Young Adults, Fair Game: The Steps of Odessa (Spire Publishing, ISBN 1-897312-72-5) by James Watson. The book is dedicated to Giya Gongadze, but the theme, of a persecuted journalist and the impact of his revelations about government corruption on his footballing daughter, Natasha, and his son Lonya, has strong similarities to Gongadze's own fate.

Timeline of reporters killed in Ukraine

Under former President Leonid Kuchma opposition papers were closed and several journalists died in mysterious circumstances[35].

Year Date Event
1995 April Volodymyr Ivanov of Slava Sevastopolya, in Sevastopol [36]
1996 May Ihor Hrushetskyin Cherkasy[36]
1997 13 March Petro Shevchenko, correspondent for the daily Kyivskiye Vedomosti in Luhansk, Ukraine, is found hanging in an abandoned building in Kiev. He had co-authored articles about disputes between the mayor of Luhansk and the local branch of the Ukrainian Security Services.[37]
11 August Borys Derevyanko, editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian newspaper, Verchernaya Odessa, shot twice and killed while on the way to an editorial board meeting at his office.[37]
1999 16 May Ihor Bondar director of the AMT television station, was shot and killed in the an Odessa residential neighbourhood, as he was driving in a car with Boris Vikhrov, the Odessa court's presiding judge. The magistrate was also killed in the attack. This double murder was carried out by men with Kalashnikov-style automatic weapons riding in a car. [37]
2000 16 September Georgiy Gongadze
2001 24 June Oleh Breus publisher of the regional weekly, XXI Vek, was shot dead by two gunmen outside his home in Luhansk, Ukraine. He was shot in the head and back at point blank range as he was getting out of his car. The motive for the murder remains unknown, although colleagues at XXI Vek said they had received threats in recent months. Breus himself narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in December 2000. [37]
7 July Ihor Oleksandrov, director of the private TV and radio station TOR in Slaviansk, died of injuries sustained on 3 July, when four unidentified men wielding baseball bats attacked him at his office. Local media suggested that Oleksandrov's death was linked to his investigations into corruption and organised crime.[37][38]
2002 27 November Mykhailo Kolomiets, co-founder of Ukrainian News Agency found dead hanging on a tree in Belarus.[39]
2003 14 December Volodymyr Karachevtsev, 47, deputy editor-in-chief of Kuryer newspaper, was found dead in his home in Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast. He was discovered hanging from the handle of his refrigerator. Karachevtsev was also chairman of the regional independent union of journalists and a correspondent for the online publication, Vlasti.net. Police did not rule out the possibility of murder.[37]
2004 3 March Yuriy Chechyk, director of Radio Yuta in Poltava, died under suspicious circumstances in a car crash. He was on the way to meet with executives of Radio Liberty's Ukrainian Service, which is often critical of the Ukrainian government, to hold talks on rebroadcasting the station's programmes on the more accessible FM band.[37]

Name spelling disambiguation

Note that the pronunciation and sometimes spelling of Gongadze's name may differ following the phonetics of different languages. The proper Georgian name Georgi Gongadze became Георгий Гонгадзе in Russian and Георгій Гонгадзе in Ukrainian. Ukrainian officials refer to him as Heorhiy Honhadze, as in the common dialect of southern Russian and still common among the Ukrainian officials. After recent linguistic reform, Ukrainians use the modified letter Ґ (Ghe) for a G, which has been used in spelling Gongadze's last name (Ґонґадзе), but not his first name (Георгій). Although, some sources also refer to him as Georgy Gongadze. The modified letter Ґ (Ghe) was re-introduced back after the Soviet linguistic reform of 1933 when the letter was disbanded as being considered non-Ukrainian by Soviets and, improper.

See also

Footnotes and references

  1. ^ As established by the investigation and proved by the court. See Gongadze Case (2000–2008): A Legal Review by Dr iur Vyacheslav "Slavik" Bihun, LL.M. - http://www.bihun.info/jushits/jurhit/article/242/
  2. ^ a b c Key suspect in Gongadze murder arrested; Pukach allegedly strangled journalist, but who gave the order? (UPDATED), Kyiv Post, (July 22, 2009)
  3. ^ a b c d Tymoshenko hopes those who ordered killing of Gongadze will be identified and punished, Interfax-Ukraine (July 29, 2009)
  4. ^ a b Ukraine finds 'reporter's skull', BBC News (July 28, 2009)
  5. ^ a b Key Ukraine murder trial begins, BBC News (January 9, 2006)
  6. ^ a b BBC NEWS | Europe | Ukraine journalist killers jailed
  7. ^ BBC News | MEDIA REPORTS | Outspoken Ukraine journalist missing
  8. ^ Ukraine remembers slain reporter, BBC News (September 16, 2004)
  9. ^ ForUm :: Breaking Ukrainian News
  10. ^ (Russian)Мать Гонгадзе отказывается хоронить выданное ей тело и «устраивать похороны чужих останков» // Остров - Новости.
  11. ^ a b BBC News | EUROPE | Ukraine's 'censorship killing'
  12. ^ BBC News | EUROPE | Judge denies journalist's murder solved
  13. ^ BBC NEWS | Europe | Ukraine official sentenced over journalist murder
  14. ^ BBC NEWS | Europe | 'Killer admits' Gongadze murder
  15. ^ PACE Resolution 1645 (2009)
  16. ^ BBC NEWS | Europe | 'Gongadze killers' held by police
  17. ^ http://www.rferl.org/reports/corruptionwatch/2005/03/2-040305.asp
  18. ^ Employees of SBU and Prosecutor’s General office detained Pukach, UNIAN (July 22, 2009)
  19. ^ Events by themes: On July, 21 Aleksey Pukach was arrested near Zhytomir. He named the masterminds of Gongadze’s murder, UNIAN (July 22, 2009)
  20. ^ How Pukach was detained (video), UNIAN (July 23, 2009)
  21. ^ Pukach lived with his second name and original documents, MIGnews (July 23, 2009)
  22. ^ Ukraine general 'killed reporter', BBC News (July 22, 2009)
  23. ^ a b Pukach hasn't named key figures in Gongadze murder, says lawyer, Interfax-Ukraine (July 24, 2009)
  24. ^ Source: Fragment of Gongadze's skull found, Interfax-Ukraine (July 28, 2009)
  25. ^ UPDATE: PGO Finds Skull Fragments Allegedly Belonging To Gongadze, Ukrainian News Agency (July 29, 2009)
  26. ^ Medvedko Refuses To Remove Holomsha From Investigation Into Gongadze's Murder, Ukrainian News Agency (July 30, 2009)
  27. ^ Prosecutors not planning to change staff of investigative group on Gongadze case, Interfax-Ukraine (July 30, 2009)
  28. ^ PGO refuses to replace Pukach's lawyer, as requested by Gongadze's widow, Kyiv Post (October 28, 2009)
  29. ^ Gongadze's mother agrees to DNA tests of skull that might belong to his son after presidential elections, Interfax-Ukraine (November 20, 2009)
  30. ^ Court extends detention of Pukach, allegedly involved in Gongadze murder, by two months, Kyiv Post (December 3, 2009)
  31. ^ Former guard accuses parliament speaker of Gongadze murder, Kyiv Post (December 8, 2009)
  32. ^ Gongadze Street in Kiev, ForUm (17 June 2005)
  33. ^ Monument to Gongadze to be opened in Kyiv this August, ForUm (28 July 2008 )
  34. ^ Monument to Gongadze to be opened in Kyiv instead of mother's will, ForUm (26 August 2008 )
  35. ^ Country profile: Ukraine, BBC News
  36. ^ a b "UKRAINE: CPJ urges vigorous investigations, reforms". Committee to Protect Journalists. http://www.cpj.org/protests/05ltrs/Ukraine31jan05pl.html. Retrieved 2006-07-05.  
  37. ^ a b c d e f g "Journalist killed, independent media harassed". International Press Institute. http://www.freemedia.at/cms/ipi/statements_detail.html?ctxid=CH0055&docid=CMS1144675764884&year=2004. Retrieved 2006-07-05.  
  38. ^ "UKRAINE: Suspect charged with journalist's murder acquitted". Committee to Protect Journalists. http://www.cpj.org/news/2002/Ukraine17may02na.html. Retrieved 2006-07-05.  
  39. ^ IPI concerned about death of independent news agency's director, International Press Institute (27 November 2002)

Further reading

External links

In English:

In Ukrainian:


Georgiy Gongadze
Георгій Русланович Ґонґадзе
File:Georgi
Georgiy Ruslanovich Gongadze
Born May 21, 1969(1969-05-21)
Template:Country data URS Tbilisi, Georgian SSR, Soviet Union
Died September ? 2000
Unknown location, Ukraine
Occupation Ukrainian journalist
Spouse(s) Myroslava Gongadze

Georgiy Ruslanovich Gongadze (Ukrainian: Георгій Русланович Ґонґадзе, Heorhiy Ruslanovych Gongadze; Georgian: გიორგი ღონღაძე; 21 May 1969 — 17 September 2000 [1]) was a Ukrainian journalist kidnapped and murdered in 2000. The circumstances of his death became a national scandal and a focus for protests against the government of the then President, Leonid Kuchma. Gongadze's killers have yet to be publicly identified or put on trial, although two men accused of his murder were arrested in March 2005. His widow Myroslava Gongadze and their two children received political asylum in the United States and have lived there since 2001. The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly adopted on 27 January 2009 Resolution 1645 on the investigation of crimes allegedly committed by high officials during the Yushchenko rule in Ukraine – the Gongadze case as an emblematic example. This Resolution calls on the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office to use all possible avenues of investigation to identify those who instigated and organised the murder of Giorgiy Gongadze. [2]

Contents

Career

Born in Tbilisi, Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, Gongadze was the son of a Georgian politician father and a Ukrainian nurse mother. He was educated at the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv in western Ukraine. His mother Lesya was born there and lives in Lviv now. He became a successful journalist, first in Georgia (where he reported on the conflict in Abkhazia) and then in Ukraine. He worked for the Kiev-based radio station Kontynent, on which he had his own show called First round with Heorhiy Gongadze. His strongly independent line soon attracted hostility from the increasingly authoritarian government of Leonid Kuchma; during the October 1999 presidential election, his commentaries prompted a call from Kuchma's headquarters to say "that he had been blacklisted to be dealt with after the election." Visiting New York in January 2000 with other Ukrainian journalists, he warned of "the strangulation of the freedom of speech and information in our state."

In April 2000, Gongadze co-founded a news website, Ukrayinska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth), as a means of sidestepping the government's increasing influence over the mainstream media. He observed that following the muzzling of a prominent pro-opposition newspaper after the election, "today there is practically no objective information available about Ukraine". The website specialized in political news and commentary, focusing particularly on President Kuchma, the country's wealthy "oligarchs" and the official media.

In June 2000, Gongadze wrote an open letter to Ukraine's chief prosecutor about harassment from the SBU, the Ukrainian secret police, directed towards himself and his Ukrayinska Pravda colleagues and apparently related to an investigation into a murder case in the southern port of Odessa. He complained that had been forced into hiding because of harassment from the secret police, that he said he and his family were being followed, that his staff were being harassed, and that the SBU were spreading a rumor that he was wanted on a murder charge.[3]

Disappearance and investigations

Gongadze disappeared on 16 September 2000, after failing to return home. Foul play was suspected from the outset. The matter immediately attracted widespread public attention and media interest. 80 journalists signed an open letter to President Kuchma urging an investigation and complaining that "during the years of Ukrainian independence, not a single high-profile crime against journalists has been fully resolved." Kuchma responded by ordering an immediate inquiry. This was, however, viewed with some skepticism. Opposition politician Hryhoriy Omelchenko reported that the disappearance had coincided with Gongadze receiving documents on corruption within the president's own entourage. The Ukrainian Parliament set up a parallel inquiry run by a special commission. Neither investigation produced any results.

Two months later, on 3 November 2000, a body was found in a forest in the Taraschanskyi Raion (district) of the Kiev Oblast (province), some 70 km (40 miles) outside Kiev. The corpse had been decapitated and doused in dioxine, apparently to make identification more difficult; forensic investigations found that the dioxine bath and decapitation had occurred while the victim was still alive. A group of journalists first identified it as being that of Gongadze, a finding confirmed a few weeks later by his wife Myroslava. In a bizarre twist, the corpse was then confiscated by the police and resurfaced in a morgue in Kiev. The authorities did not officially acknowledge that the body was that of Gongadze until the following February and did not definitively confirm it until as late as March 2003. The body was eventually identified and was to be returned to Gongadze's family to be buried two years after his disappearance. However, the funeral never took place. As of 23 June 2006 Gongadze's mother refused to accept the remains offered as it was not the body of her son.[4] While visiting Kiev in July 2006, Gongadze's widow Myroslava emphasized that the funeral had become now a solemnly family issue, and the date of the funeral would soon be appointed.

On 28 November 2000, opposition politician Oleksandr Moroz publicized secret tape recordings which he claimed implicated President Kuchma in Gongadze's murder. The recordings were said to be of discussions between Kuchma, presidential chief of staff Volodymyr Lytvyn, and Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and were claimed to have been provided by an unnamed SBU officer (later named as Major Mykola Mel'nychenko, Kuchma's bodyguard). The conversations included comments expressing annoyance at Gongadze's writings as well as discussions of ways to shut him up, such as deporting him and arranging from him to be kidnapped and taken to Chechnya. Killing him was, however, not mentioned and doubt was cast on the tapes' authenticity, as the quality of the recordings was poor. Moroz told the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada (parliament) that "the professionally organized disappearance, a slow-moving investigation, disregard for the most essential elements of investigation and incoherent comments by police officials suggest that the case was put together."

The affair became a major political scandal (referred to in Ukraine as the "Cassette Scandal" or "Tapegate"). Kuchma strongly denied Moroz's accusations and threatened a libel suit, blaming the tapes on foreign agents. He later acknowledged that his voice was indeed one of those on the tapes, but claimed that they had been selectively edited to distort his meaning.

Crises and controversy

The affair became an international crisis for the Ukrainian government during 2001, with the European Union expressing dissatisfaction at the official investigation, rumors of Ukrainian suspension from the Council of Europe, and censure from the OSCE, which described Gongadze's death as a case of "censorship by killing" and castigated the "extremely unprofessional" investigation.[5] Mass demonstrations erupted in Kiev in February 2001, calling for the resignation of Kuchma and the dismissal of other key officials. He did sack the head of the SBU, Leonid Derkach, and the chief of the presidential bodyguard, Volodymyr Shepel, but refused to step down.[5] The government invited the US FBI to investigate, though it does not appear that this offer was ever taken up. The protests were eventually forcibly broken up by the police.

In May 2001, interior minister Yuri Smirnov announced that the murder had been solved—it was attributed to a random act of violence committed by two "hooligans" with links to a gangster called "Cyclops". Both of the killers were said to now be dead. The claim was dismissed by the opposition and by the government's own prosecutor-general, whose office issued a statement denying Smirnov's claims.[6]

Mass protests again broke out in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities in September 2002 to mark the second anniversary of Gongadze's death. The demonstrators again called for Kuchma's resignation but the protests again failed to achieve their goal, with police breaking up the protesters' camp.

The prosecutor of the Tarascha district, where Gongadze's body was found, was convicted in May 2003 for abuse of office and falsification of evidence. Serhiy Obozov was found guilty of forging documents and negligence in the investigation and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. However, he was immediately released due to a provision of Ukraine's amnesty laws.[7]

In June 2004, the government claimed that a convicted gangster identified only as "K" had confessed to Gongadze's murder, although there was no independent confirmation of the claim. The ongoing investigation received a setback when a key witness died of spinal injuries apparently sustained while in police custody.[8]

Gongadze's death became a major issue in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, in which the opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko pledged to solve the case if he became president. Yushchenko did become president following the subsequent Orange Revolution and immediately launched a new investigation, replacing the country's prosecutor-general.

Resolution?

On 1 March 2005, Yushchenko announced that the journalist's suspected killers had been arrested.[9] Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun announced the following day that the case had been solved, telling Ukrainian television that Gongadze had been strangled by employees of the Interior Ministry. Two of the alleged killers were said to be senior policemen working for the Interior Ministry's criminal investigations directorate (CID).[10] Former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, one of those recorded with Leonid Kuchma in the Cassette Scandal, was also said to be under investigation. The two police colonels accused of the killing have been detained and a third senior policeman, identified as CID commander Oleksiy Pukach, was being sought on an international arrest warrant.

The Russian-edited Ukrainian newspaper Segodnya ("Today") reported that Gongadze had been abducted by the policemen and accidentally shot in the head while seated in a vehicle, necessitating his decapitation (to avoid the bullet being recovered and matched to a police weapon). His body had been doused in petrol which had failed to burn properly, and had then been dumped.[11]

On 4 March, Yuri Kravchenko was found dead in a dacha in the elite residential area of Koncha-Zaspa, outside Kiev. He had died from apparently self-inflicted gunshot wounds, though some speculated that he might have been assassinated to prevent him from testifying as a witness. Hryhory Omelchenko, who chaired the parliamentary committee that investigated the Gongadze case, told the New York Times that Kravchenko had ordered Pukach to abduct Gongadze on President Kuchma's orders. Kuchma himself has denied this allegation but has since been interviewed by investigators.

In April/May 2005, Piskun released more details of the ongoing investigation. He told the press that after Gongadze was murdered, a second group disinterred him and re-buried him where he was eventually found, in the constituency of Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. According to Piskun, the aim was to undermine the government (led by Viktor Yushchenko when he was still Prime Minister). The second group was part of or allied with the United Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (SDPUo), a pro-oligarch grouping which had been hit hard by Yushchenko's crackdown on corruption and therefore wanted to see his government toppled. According to the journal Ukrayina moloda (14 April 2005), the SDPUo moved Gongadze in order to discredit President Leonid Kuchma and force early elections, which could have led to party leader Medvedchuk succeeding Kuchma.

As of 6 June 2006, three former policemen are on trial, charged with the killing of Georgiy Gongadze. Another suspect, ex-police officer, Oleksiy Pukach is believed to have fled abroad and therefore charged but not on trial. No-one has been charged for ordering the murder. The trial started on 9 January 2006. On the day the trial started his widow Myroslava Gongadze commented on the fact that no-one has been charged for the killing: "They are known and they should be punished just the same as those who will be sitting in the dock today".

In mid March 2008 three former police officers was sentenced to prison for the actual act of murder of Gongadze. Mykola Protasovwas given a sentence of 13 years, while Valeriy Kostenko and Oleksandr Popovych were each handed 12-year terms. But so far the investigations have failed to show who ordered the murder.[12]

Name spelling disambiguation

Note that the pronunciation and sometimes spelling of Gongadze's name may differ following the phonetics of different languages. The proper Georgian name Georgi Gongadze became Георгий Гонгадзе in Russian and Георгій Гонгадзе in Ukrainian. Ukrainian officials refer to him as Heorhiy Honhadze, as in the common dialect of southern Russian and still common among the Ukrainian officials. After recent linguistic reform, Ukrainians use the modified letter Ґ (Ghe) for a G, which has been used in spelling Gongadze's last name (Ґонґадзе), but not his first name (Георгій). Although, some sources also refer to him as Georgy Gongadze. The modified letter Ґ (Ghe) was re-introduced back after the Soviet linguistic reform of 1933 when the letter was disbanded as being considered non-Ukrainian by Soviets and, improper.

Reporters killed in Ukraine

Since March 2004 the International Press Institute reported no more killed journalists in Ukraine[13].

Year Date Event
1995 April Volodymyr Ivanov of Slava Sevastopolya, in Sevastopol [14]
1996 May Ihor Hrushetskyin Cherkasy[14]
1997 13 March Petro Shevchenko, correspondent for the daily Kyivskiye Vedomosti in Luhansk, Ukraine, is found hanging in an abandoned building in Kiev. He had co-authored articles about disputes between the mayor of Luhansk and the local branch of the Ukrainian Security Services.[15]
11 August Borys Derevyanko, editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian newspaper, Verchernaya Odessa, shot twice and killed while on the way to an editorial board meeting at his office.[15]
1999 16 May Ihor Bondar director of the AMT television station, was shot and killed in the an Odessa residential neighbourhood, as he was driving in a car with Boris Vikhrov, the Odessa court's presiding judge. The magistrate was also killed in the attack. This double murder was carried out by men with Kalashnikov-style automatic weapons riding in a car. [15]
2000 16 September Georgiy Gongadze
2001 24 June Oleh Breus publisher of the regional weekly, XXI Vek, was shot dead by two gunmen outside his home in Luhansk, Ukraine. He was shot in the head and back at point blank range as he was getting out of his car. The motive for the murder remains unknown, although colleagues at XXI Vek said they had received threats in recent months. Breus himself narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in December 2000. [15]
7 July Ihor Oleksandrov, director of the private TV and radio station TOR in Slaviansk, died of injuries sustained on 3 July, when four unidentified men wielding baseball bats attacked him at his office. Local media suggested that Oleksandrov's death was linked to his investigations into corruption and organised crime.[15][16]
2002 27 November Mykhailo Kolomiets, co-founder of Ukrainian News Agency found dead hanging on a tree in Belarus.[13]
2003 14 December Volodymyr Karachevtsev, 47, deputy editor-in-chief of Kuryer newspaper, was found dead in his home in Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast. He was discovered hanging from the handle of his refrigerator. Karachevtsev was also chairman of the regional independent union of journalists and a correspondent for the online publication, Vlasti.net. Police did not rule out the possibility of murder.[15]
2004 3 March Yuriy Chechyk, director of Radio Yuta in Poltava, died under suspicious circumstances in a car crash. He was on the way to meet with executives of Radio Liberty's Ukrainian Service, which is often critical of the Ukrainian government, to hold talks on rebroadcasting the station's programmes on the more accessible FM band.[15]

See also

Footnotes and references

  1. As established by the investigation and proved by the court. See Gongadze Case (2000-2008): A Legal Review by Dr iur Vyacheslav "Slavik" Bihun, LL.M. - http://www.bihun.info/jushits/jurhit/article/242/
  2. [http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/AdoptedText/ta09/ERES1645.htm PACE Resolution 1645(2009)
  3. BBC News | MEDIA REPORTS | Outspoken Ukraine journalist missing
  4. (Russian)Мать Гонгадзе отказывается хоронить выданное ей тело и «устраивать похороны чужих останков» // Остров - Новости.
  5. 5.0 5.1 BBC News | EUROPE | Ukraine's 'censorship killing'
  6. BBC News | EUROPE | Judge denies journalist's murder solved
  7. BBC NEWS | Europe | Ukraine official sentenced over journalist murder
  8. BBC NEWS | Europe | 'Killer admits' Gongadze murder
  9. BBC NEWS | Europe | 'Gongadze killers' held by police
  10. http://www.rferl.org/reports/corruptionwatch/2005/03/2-040305.asp
  11. ForUm :: Breaking Ukrainian News
  12. BBC NEWS | Europe | Ukraine journalist killers jailed
  13. 13.0 13.1 IPI concerned about death of independent news agency's director, International Press Institute (27 November 2002)
  14. 14.0 14.1 "UKRAINE: CPJ urges vigorous investigations, reforms". Committee to Protect Journalists. http://www.cpj.org/protests/05ltrs/Ukraine31jan05pl.html. Retrieved on 2006-07-05. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 "Journalist killed, independent media harassed". International Press Institute. http://www.freemedia.at/cms/ipi/statements_detail.html?ctxid=CH0055&docid=CMS1144675764884&year=2004. Retrieved on 2006-07-05. 
  16. "UKRAINE: Suspect charged with journalist's murder acquitted". Committee to Protect Journalists. http://www.cpj.org/news/2002/Ukraine17may02na.html. Retrieved on 2006-07-05. 

Further reading

External links

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In Ukrainian:


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