KIEV, November 30, 22:03 /ITAR-TASS/. Murdered Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze’s mother died in Lvov, Western Ukraine, at the age of 68 last night.
The news was reported by the online newspaper Ukrainskaya Pravda (Ukrainian Truth), which was founded by Gongadze.
Georgy Gongadze was killed in the autumn of 2000. On March 15, 2008, Kiev’s Court of Appeals proclaimed three former officers of the Interior Ministry’s Department of External Surveillance and Criminal Intelligence guilty of his murder and sentenced them to long terms from 12 to 13 years in prison. Their boss, police General Alexei Pukach was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In late January 2013, Kiev’s Pechersky District Court convicted Pukach of strangling and beheading Gongadze in September 2000, and sentenced him to life in prison.
Pukach was detained in July 2009. 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 years ago and named the masterminds, he also confessed to have killed Gongadze.
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 first 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 was freed in 2003 to allow him to escape justice.
Kuchma himself was suspected of having played a role in the killing of Gongadze. He was accused by former Ukrainian State Guard Service officer Nikolai Melnichenko, who was detained upon arrival in Ukraine from the United States a year ago on charges of abuse of office, disclosure of state secrets and document forgery.
Melnichenko had earlier been charged in the so-called “cassette case” that started in November 2000, in Kiev, when Ukrainian politician Alexander Moroz publicly accused President Kuchma of involvement in the abduction of journalist Georgy Gongadze and numerous other crimes. Moroz named Kuchma’s former bodyguard, Major Nikolai Melnichenko, as the source. He also played selected recordings of the president's secret conversations for journalists, supposedly confirming Kuchma’s order to kidnap Gongadze. That and hundreds of other conversations were later published worldwide by Melnichenko.
Melnichenko was put on the wanted list by Ukraine’s Security Service in September 2011. Kuchma’s lawyers said the major was hiding from prosecution.
On June 27, 2012, the Higher Specialised Court upheld the rulings of Kiev’s Pechersky District Court and the Court of Appeals that had declared the criminal case against Kuchma unlawful.
In late December 2011, the Prosecutor General’s Office appealed the ruling of Kiev’s Pechersky District Court to annul the resolution ordering the commencement of criminal proceedings against Kuchma in the Gongadze murder case.
Earlier in the same month, the Pechersky District Court ruled that the Prosecutor General’s Office had had no solid reasons for opening a criminal case against Kuchma who insisted on further investigation and search for the masterminds and perpetrators of Gongadze’s murder.
The Court also resumed the investigation into the role played by Pukach implicated in the murder of Gongadze, which eventually led to his conviction and life imprisonment.
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic welcomed the conviction of Gongadze’s murderer, while urging the authorities to continue to pursue the instigators of this crime.
“Finally, after twelve long years of suffering and uncertainty for Gongadze's family, friends and colleagues, justice has been done. But those who ordered this crime remain at large,” Mijatovic said. “There is still a long way to go to break the vicious circle of impunity for those who instigate violence against journalists, in Ukraine and beyond.”
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.”
“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 stressed.
Mijatovic also highlighted the fact that in the last five years only three out of almost 30 murders of journalists in the OSCE region have been successfully 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.
The case is not closed yet. Police are looking for the masterminds of the crime, while the journalist remains unburied.