Human rights and media organizations in a statement on the anniversary of George Gongadze’s murder

Published: 15.09.2021,  Views: 42

On September 16, 21 years ago, Ukrainian journalist George Gongadze was abducted and murdered.

Severity of the crime, as well as the so-called “mayor Melnychenko’s tapes” revealed soon after giving reasons to suspect the then President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma to the murder, stirred the professional community and the public leading up to mass protests which transformed into a revolt known as “Ukraine Without Kuchma.”

However, despite the pressure from the civil society and international organizations, there has been no closure in this case yet.

Back in November 2005, the European Court of Human Rights in the judgement No 34056/02 on Myroslava Gongadze’s application concluded that Ukraine turned out incapable of protecting the journalist’s life. Since then, thanks to continuous pressure from the Gongadze family and the international community, Ukraine has progressed in the investigation. The perpetrators of the crime have been named and convicted. In July 2021, the Supreme Court eventually concluded the five-year consideration of an appeal submitted by the perpetrator, former general of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs Oleksiy Pukach and upheld the verdict and sentence to life in prison under the article “Murder for Hire.” 

However, Ukraine has still not fulfilled all the requirements of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, a body which supervises the implementation of ECHR decisions.

Ukraine is currently expected to:

  • step up the investigation regarding masterminds of the murder who remain unestablished hitherto, and
  • increase the efficiency of investigation into criminal acts against Ukrainian journalists, ensure effective protection and the due level of security to all journalists. 

Since the murder of George Gongadze, the number of crimes against journalists in Ukraine has only increased. Sadly, Gongadze’s death is one of the most resonant but not a lone violent death case of those who seek to communicate truthful information.

The most blaring cases include the July 20’s murder of journalist Pavlo Sheremet in Kyiv in 2016. The trial of the accused is still ongoing, but all arrested deny their complicity in the crime and claim the prosecution to be politically motivated. The investigation regarding those who ordered the murder was established into the individual case and is ongoing to date.

Moreover, Cherkasy-based journalist Vadym Komarov was severely beaten on May 4, 2019. Then, 46 days later, the man died in a coma. The crime remains unsolved, with perpetrators and masterminds unpunished.

These and other cases are only the most striking evidence to a large-scale and alarming trend. Given that Ukraine is an independent democratic state where freedom of speech and security of citizens, including those struggling for truth, are valued—journalists must not suffer abuse, attacks and be victims of murders, while cases against perpetrators and masterminds must be investigated. 

We, signed below, call for the Ukrainian government to ensure transparent investigations into these cases, establish and name masterminds of the murders. We also urge to protect the activities of journalists, fulfill the requirements of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe providing for the impartial and effective performance of law-enforcement agencies and the judiciary system, and to adopt systemic measures necessary to protect the rights of citizens to trustworthy and impartial information.

George Gongadze Prize

PEN Ukraine Executive Board

ZMINA Human Rights Center

NGO Detector Media

NGO Institute of Mass Information

Center for Civil Liberties

Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

NGO Human Rights Platform

Amnesty International Ukraine

NGO Lviv Media Forum

Reporters Without Borders