NUJ welcomes decision to convict Ukrainian soldier for executing Georgy Gongadze

Tim Lezard
Georgy Gongadze

Georgy Gongadze

The NUJ has welcomed the decision to convict General Oleksiy Pukach for the murder of the Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze.

The court made the decision in Kiev earlier this week, and the conviction comes after a long and hard campaign waged by journalists and Gongadze’s family.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “After many years of hard campaigning we are pleased that there will be some justice for Georgy and his family.

“The Gongadze case has come to epitomise the impunity with which politicians and other powerful people conspire to silence journalists.

“We warned repeatedly that the refusal to pursue the Gongadze case and the way that senior politicians of various parties obstructed and sabotaged the investigation, would encourage other officials to act with impunity against journalists.

“The conviction sends a strong message to those that want to silence journalists – the same justice should now also be extended to those others involved in Georgy’s murder.”

Jim Boumedlha, President of the International Federation of Journalists, said: “After more than a decade of tireless pursuit of justice for Gongadze, the conviction of his killer is good news indeed.

“Unfortunately, the decision feels like partial justice as others involved in his murder are still being shielded from responsibility.”

Ukraine media reported that the court found General Pukach, a former chief of surveillance department in the Interior Ministry, guilty of strangling the journalist and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

The defendant, who confessed to the killing in 2009, told the court the murder had been ordered by former President Leonid Kuchma, his former chief of staff Volodymyr Lytvyn and former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko who died in 2005 in suspicious circumstances.

Prosecutors brought charges against Kuchma in 2011 but dropped them, citing lack of evidence. Pukach’s trial was held behind closed doors, restricting the access of families to court hearings and raising suspicions of a cover up.

Georgy Gongadze, publisher of the Internet journal Ukrainska Prawda, was kidnapped on 16 September 2000 and his body found later beheaded.

The journalist had been investigating corruption at senior levels of the Ukrainian government led by former President Leonid Kuchma.

Revelations of secret tape recordings of Kuchma ordering Interior Ministry’ services to kill Gongadze sparked accusations of his involvement.

The IFJ spearheaded the campaign to have his killers face justice and with its European group, the European Federation of Journalists, has warned that all suspects needs to be held to account.

The Federation is opposed to the idea of holding closed courts, which may give reasons to doubt the fairness of the sentence, and have called for greater openness in the proceedings.

Arne König, President of the European Federation of Journalists, said: “We  urge the authorities to reconsider their decision not to prosecute other individuals mentioned by Pukach. They should answer for their role in a public and transparent trial. It is the only way to do justice for Gongadze and allow his family to move on.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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