Yushchenko pledges to expose truth behind killing

The new
Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko, this week promised to
prioritise the case of murdered journalist Gyorgy Gongadze – while
campaigners urged that the investigation be widened to uncover the
instigators of the killing.

Yushchenko, addressing European
parliamentarians in Strasbourg on Tuesday, two days after his
inauguration, said his government would “meet the moral challenge” of
the Gongadze case and press law enforcement agencies to get it into
court as soon as possible.

Simultaneously, the Council of
Europe’s legal affairs commission opened a wide-ranging investigation
of the case headed by former German justice minister Sabine
Leutheusser- Schnarrenberger.

Gongadze’s murder in September 2000
became the biggest scandal faced by Yushchenko’s predecessor, Leonid
Kuchma. A presidential bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, fled Ukraine and
revealed tape recordings of Kuchma and other senior politicians
discussing harming Gongadze. The Georgian-born campaigning internet
journalist was followed by security agents before his death, and
beheaded by his killers.

After street demonstrations last year
forced a re-run of the presidential election marred by ballot-rigging,
and following Yuschenko’s subsequent victory, media freedom campaigners
now hope he will deliver on promises to solve it.

Many in Ukraine see the Gongadze case as a litmus test for human rights.

In
Strasbourg on Tuesday, Yushchenko warmly hugged Georgy Gongadze’s
widow,Myroslava, who lives in exile in the US with the dead
journalist’s seven-year-old twin children. He told the parliamentary
assembly of the Council of Europe: “I want to start next week by
meeting Gyorgy’s mother and hearing what the family wants.”

He
said general prosecutor Sviatoslav Piskun had promised the case would
be in court soon, and had already sent two related cases to trial.

But
Yushchenko pointedly avoided referring to Kuchma’s possible connection
with the murder. Myroslava Gongadze, backed by campaigners from the
International Federation of Journalists, the NUJ and media freedom
groups, warned that the “political collusion”

that may have resulted in Gyorgy’s death had stymied previous investigations, and must be uncovered.

“We
want the instigators brought to justice, not just those who carried out
their orders,” Mrs Gongadze told Press Gazette . She launched a report
on the case, compiled by journalists’ unions and media freedom groups,
that said investigators had for four years avoided serious examination
of the “Melnychenko tapes”. A refusal to deal with them now would be “a
step backwards”, the report argues.

The report can be read on the IFJ website at www.ifj.org

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