The International Press Institute (IPI) on 22 March welcomed news that Ukraine’s state prosecutor has opened a criminal case against former President Leonid Kuchma for his alleged involvement in organising the 2000 murder of opposition journalist Georgiy Gongadze.
Reuters reported that First Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin announced the formal opening of a case against Kuchma at a press conference today. Kuzmin also said that restrictions had been imposed on the ex-president’s movements.
Gongadze, an outspoken journalist whose Pravda Ukrayiny Internet newspaper was highly critical of Kuchma during the former president’s two terms of office from 1994 to 2005, disappeared in Kiev in September 2000. His headless body was found six weeks later buried in a wooded area outside the central town of Tarashcha.
The journalist had reported being harassed and followed by the police for several months before his murder, and he had allegedly received death threats. A former presidential bodyguard released audio recordings following Gongadze’s disappearance which the bodyguard said contained Kuchma telling his chief of staff Volodymyr Lytvyn – currently Parliament chairman – and then-Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko to “get rid of” Gongadze.
Kuchma and Lytvyn have denied involvement in the murder, and a technical analysis of the recordings commissioned by IPI and Washington-based rights group Freedom House at the request of the Temporary Investigative Commission of the Ukrainian parliament in 2000 could not conclusively establish the speakers’ identities.
Kravchenko was reportedly found dead in his apartment in 2005 with two gunshots to the head just hours before he was scheduled to be questioned in the case. Authorities ruled his death a suicide, and prosecutors in September 2010 formally identified him as the sole instigator of Gongadze’s murder.
IPI reported in 2000 that the investigation into Gongadze’s disappearance was marred by either incompetence or reticence on the part of the authorities, with one unlikely explanation after another being put forward.
Three former police officers were convicted of the murder in March 2008, but the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe the following year approved a resolution urging Ukraine to do more to prosecute former officials who may have been behind the killing.
IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “We are glad to hear that the alleged perpetrator of this heinous crime, despite having occupied a high position, will be made to answer for the death of our colleague. The implication of prominent people in cases like this one serves to highlight the dangers of being a journalist.”
This press release is supported by the South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate.