UKRAINE OFFERS LITTLE PROTECTION TO JOURNALISTS.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 138

The case of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze, whose beheaded body was found last November near Kyiv, remains unsolved, and the death toll among Ukrainian journalists continues to mount. Ihor Aleksandrov, director of the television company TOR in Slovyansk, Donetsk region, was beaten on July 3 by unknown thugs, and died, according to the medical diagnosis, in the intensive care ward on July 7 from wounds “incompatible with life.” Unlike Gongadze, who disappeared at night, Aleksandrov was beaten with baseball bats in broad daylight on the stairs of his office. The assailants were apparently unafraid that the police might interrupt them.

Aleksandrov was involved in investigative journalism, and his relations with local authorities were reportedly strained. In 1998, a local MP sued him for libel. Though the charges were never proved, a local court both ordered Aleksandrov to pay a fine and banned him from journalism for five years. The verdict was later suspended, but no acquittal granted. Aeksandrov then filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights. Not long before his death, the same MP (who, as it happens, controls local spirit production) approached TOR and Aleksandrov was to resign.

Aleksandrov’s is only the most outrageous recent example of Ukraine’s seeming attitude to journalists. A television director was beaten in western Lutsk, a newspaper in central Kirovohrad and a television station in eastern Kharkiv were pushed to the verge of closure by an exorbitant court penalty.

This situation has not gone unnoticed by the international community. William Taylor, U.S. State Department coordinator for assistance to the newly independent states, announced in Kyiv on July 12 that the U.S. Congress was planning to decrease financial assistance to Ukraine in 2002, worried, among other things, about the murders of journalists. On July 8, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) passed a resolution on the political situation in Ukraine, calling on Kyiv to fully investigate the case of Gongadze, no matter which positions the suspects might hold. But official Kyiv refuses to recognize that the situation is serious and has taken offense at the OSCE warning. On July 10, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Serhy Borodenkov called the OSCE resolution subjective, biased and detrimental to Ukraine’s political stability.

Within Ukraine, it would be unfair to say that President Leonid Kuchma has turned a blind eye to journalists’ woes. On July 10, he issued a series of orders to the government aimed at protecting journalists and making investigations into crimes against them more transparent. In particular, he ordered that special “hot” phone lines be established for journalists to report their fears to the police, to regularly inform the public about the investigation of crimes against journalists, and to enhance the protection of editorial premises.

The police are responsible for implementing most of those orders. Yet Ukraine’s top law enforcement officer, Interior Minister Yury Smirnov, apparently has a somewhat peculiar understanding of the problem. At a briefing on July 14, Smirnov said that mortality rates in police and coal mining are much higher than in journalism. “You are very far behind,” he told journalists. According to Smirnov, journalists get themselves in trouble in their pursuit of scandals. “You know what you are doing,” he said. Smirnov suggested that journalists should share interesting information with the police, rather than produce investigative reports. He also noted that some in the media are in fact commissioned to produce defamatory items.

It is no secret that Ukrainian journalists are indeed used in interclan warfare from time to time. But Smirnov’s remarks show that the authorities either do not understand the seriousness of the problem or are reluctant to act. It is a fact that none of the numerous murders of investigative journalists over the past several years has been fully resolved. Thus the international community and the Ukrainian people legitimately suspect that public officials may be involved in similar cases. If the government does not change its attitude to journalists, crimes against them will likely increase as the parliamentary elections of March 2002 approach and in which big political and economic interests will be at stake (Ukrainska Pravda, Kievskie Vedomosti, July 7; UNIAN, July 10; Studio 1+1 TV, July 12, 14; New Channel TV, July 14).

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at [email protected], by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions