Thursday, 31 January 2013


The story of the killing of investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze has become a textbook case about how impunity unfold in many countries when journalists are murdered – sustaining the grim statistic that in no less than 89 percent of journalist murders worldwide, there has been little or no prosecution whatsoever.

We have always argued that impunity occurs when there was no political will to set the necessary level of investigations; when the legal framework is substandard; when judges are weak or corrupt; when the police or investigating authorities are incompetent; when there are meager resources assigned to those responsible for providing security and enforcing the law; and when official negligence and corruption is rife.

In the case of Gongadze it was many or perhaps all of these factors that made the investigation take 13 years before a conviction was finally made a few days ago by a Ukranian court. A former police officer Oleksiy Pukache was jailed for life after being found guilty of personally strangling Gongadze to death. Three other policemen also received jail terms of 12 and 13 years.

From the beginning, Ukrainian authorities wanted to turn a bind eye if it was not for the courage of his partner Myroslava and the doggedness of solicitor Valentina Telychenko. His colleagues in the Ukraine and IFJ unions played a huge role in keeping the issue alive. The NUJ UK, thanks to his activist Simon Pirani, organised countless pickets and rallies and, for 12 years, commemorated every year his murder by lobbying the Ukrainian ambassador in London, who, on every occasion, displayed much hand-wringing and made promises.

In reality, the authorities dragged their feet and hoped the campaigners would get tired of lobbying, demonstrating and petition signing. The IFJ cooperated with the NUJ UK, the Institute of Mass Information in the Ukraine and the Gongadze Foundation to produce four reports over these years which set out to unravel the misinformation campaign by the government and scrutinise the failure of the legal and judicial processes to bring Gongadze’s killers to justice.

The first report exposed almost with forensic precision how the investigative authorities deliberately obstructed the investigation, and made inconsistent announcements, often on the basis of fabricated “solutions”.

The second report entitled “The instigators are getting away” dealt in detail with the failure of the general prosecutor office and made advanced recommendations to the Council of Europe rapporteur on the Gongadze case.

The third report dealt with how senior Ukrainian officials continued to frustrate and sabotage investigations of the murder, and how some of them, like former general prosecutor Mikhail Potebenko, were rewarded in February 2007 by president Yushchenko despite a failure to carry out an effective investigation.

The final report in 2009 entitled “After Pukach’s arrest, the instigators are still untouched” concluded by raising concern that, although the arrest is to be welcomed, there is a “danger that it will lead not to a furthering of the search for the instigators of the crime, but to the avenues of investigation that lead to them being closed off.”

These words still ring true today. When the judge asked Pukach if he had understood the sentence, he replied: "I'll understand it better when Kuchma [the country’s former president] and [then presidential chief of staff Volodymyr] Lytvyn are seated here alongside me."

Earlier in the trial, Pukach also implicated former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko who was found dead in his apartment in 2005. Official reports said that he committed suicide, but there are still pending claims that he died of two gunshot wounds to his head.

In March 2011 a criminal case was opened against Kuchma but a court ruled that the prosecutor's case for being unlawful.

Myroslava Gongadze is right to feel that justice is yet to be done. “We believe that the crime was ordered and we want to bring the people who were named by Pukach to justice."  

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