Thursday, 1 September 2011

Former general admits killing Georgy Gongadze

A former general with the Ukrainian Interior Ministry testified in a Kyiv court on Tuesday that he killed journalist Georgy Gongadze (pictured) in 2000 in a plot orchestrated by former President Leonid Kuchma and other top officials, according to news reports and interviews by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Former Gen. Aleksei Pukach is being tried on charges he strangled and beheaded Gongadze, an investigative reporter and editor of the online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda. Pukach's trial, which began July 7, has been conducted in private.

News accounts of the proceedings are based on interviews with lawyers for the Gongadze family who were allowed to attend.

Pukach testified that Kuchma was among several senior officials who plotted the killing, with the direct order issued by now-deceased Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, Myroslava Gongadze, the journalist's widow, told CPJ.

Myroslava Gongadze was briefed on the proceedings by her lawyer. In his testimony, Pukach also implicated Vladimir Litvin, former head of Kuchma's administration and now parliament speaker, and Kravchenko's two deputies, Nikolai Dzhiga and the late Eduard Fere, the independent news website Gazeta reported.

Kuchma and Dzhiga denied involvement, saying Pukach fabricated the account to win leniency in court and avoid a potential life sentence, local press reports said. Litvin did not immediately respond to the accusation.

Myroslava Gongadze told CPJ that prosecutors should now open investigations into the alleged roles of Dzhiga, Litvin, and Fere. Authorities have already publicly identified Kravchenko as a conspirator. In 2005, Kravchenko was found dead in his apartment just hours before his scheduled questioning in the Gongadze case. Although Kravchenko suffered two gunshot wounds to the head, authorities said he had committed suicide.

Prior to his murder, Gongadze's website had reported extensively on allegations of corruption and vote-rigging in the Kuchma administration. CPJ's worldwide research shows that Gongadze was the first journalist whose work appeared primarily online to be slain for his reporting.

The CPJ has criticised the trial being held behind closed doors. "It is outrageous that the public cannot follow proceedings in a trial that could determine the future of press freedom in Ukraine. The hearing must be open to all,"CPJ deputy director Robert Mahoney said. "The authorities must also follow up on the accused's testimony and find and prosecute all those, no matter how powerful and well-connected they are, who plotted the murder of Georgy Gongadze."

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