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OSCE representative calls for open trial of Gongadze’s murderer

October 06, 2011, 4:00 UTC+3

Prosecutors explained that the trial is proceeding behind closed doors because of state secrets involved in the case

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STRASBOURG, October 6 (Itar-Tass) —— OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic said the trial of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze’s suspected murderer should be open.

Prosecutors explained that the trial is proceeding behind closed doors because of state secrets involved in the case.

Meanwhile, Kiev’s Pechersky District Court has resumed the investigation of the case of former Interior Ministry General Alexei Pukach implicated in the murder of Gongadze.

“Pukach’s behaviour during the questioning antagonised the prosecution, the victims, their representatives and even the court,” she said.

“All of his answers were basically mock attempts to get the parties and the court all mixed up rather than determine the truth and actual circumstances of the crime,” the lawyer said.

On August 30, Pukach said in court that he had killed Gongadze.

Another court in the Kiev region proclaimed as untruthful former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s bodyguard Nikolai Melnichenko’s assertions that parliament speaker Vladimir Litvin was allegedly involved in Gongadze’s assassination.

It forbade Melnichenko to spread any incorrect information about Litvin and obligated him to organise and conduct a press conference at his own expense in order to deny his earlier accusations against Litvin.

In March of this year Litvin started legal action against Melnichenko, demanding a denial of the latter’s statement that the parliament speaker had masterminded Gongadze’s murder.

Three former police officers have been sentenced to long terms in prison in this case. In July 2009, police detained Pukach, who had also been charged with involvement in the case.

Pukach gave exhaustive testimony, it was written down and several of its copies are kept in different places in case attempts are made to kill the suspect, Channel Five reported earlier.

The Prosecutor General's Office charged Pukach with complicity in the murder of Gongadze.

“Pukach has been charged with a number of crimes. They are connected with the murder of Gongadze in the autumn of 2000 and the destruction of documents,” then-Prosecutor General Alexander Medvedko said.

Pukach confessed to have been involved in the assassination of Gongadze nine years ago and named the masterminds.

According to the official investigation, Pukach was the actual killer. He had ordered the journalist to be followed and controlled a group of police officers who abducted Gongadze on September 16, 2000 and took him to a field near the village of Sukholisy, Kiev region, where Pukach strangled the journalist and made the accomplices keep their mouths shut. Gongadze's body was then buried in the woods.

The general was detained in October 2003 but then released a month later against a written pledge not leave the city. He disappeared shortly after that.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution demanding that the crimes committed by high-ranking officials during the Leonid Kuchma presidency be investigated. It urged the Ukrainian leadership to investigate how and why General Pukach, who is suspected of involvement in the killing of Gongadze, was freed in 2003 to allow him to escape justice.

In 2008, three accomplices to the crime - police Colonels Valery Kostenko and Nikolai Protasov and Major Alexander Popovich - were sentenced to long terms. Pukach was on the international wanted list. The masterminds of the crime have not been determined yet.

In her latest assessment of threats and responses to attacks against journalists in the OSCE region, Mijatovic said, “The right of journalists to carry out their work in safety, without fear of being harassed, attacked, beaten or killed is fundamental to the protection of all other human rights.”

Speaking at an event organised by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, on protection of journalists from violence on Wednesday, October 5, she stressed, “As long as journalists are afraid for their lives and the lives of their families while doing their job, we do not live in a free society.”

She highlighted the fact that in the last five years only three out of almost 30 murders of journalists in the OSCE region have been sucessfully prosecuted. “This casts serious doubts on the effectiveness of law-enforcement bodies and the judiciary in dealing with such crimes.”

“Governments and political leaders can help by publicly defending journalists’ rights and resisting any attempts to silence journalists. They can also demand that there is no impunity for the perpetrators and instigators of these murders,” Mijatovic said.

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