WASHINGTON – United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today renewed his concern about recent apparent attempts by Ukrainian police to intimidate media looking into allegations linking Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and top aides to the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.
“The media must be allowed to report and comment without fear of duress, even if their reports allege improprieties by high-ranking officials or are critical of the government response to these allegations,” said Chairman Smith. “Freedom of the media is a fundamental element of any democracy. Attempts to intimidate the media for publishing or broadcasting criticism of the government are contrary to Ukraine’s international commitments regarding freedom of the media, including its OSCE commitments.”
In another of the country’s media intimidation cases, a Ukrainian Security Service officer reportedly threatened the head of Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian Service based in Prague with the termination of its activities in Ukraine if Radio Liberty continued to “one-sidedly” cover developments in the Gongadze case.
The Ukrainian State Tax Administration police last week raided the offices of the Eastern Economist and threatened officials with closure after the weekly publication recently ran an editorial critical of the government’s lack of effectiveness in dealing with the growing scandal surrounding the Gongadze case.
Chairman Smith urged the Ukrainian Government to undertake a speedy, serious, open and transparent investigation into the remains believed to be those of Gongadze. Smith also expressed hope that the Ukrainian parliament would continue its efforts to seriously examine allegations concerning official involvement in Gongadze’s disappearance, and do so without hindrance.
“It is in Ukraine’s best interest to resolve this grave matter in a timely and just manner before the case further tarnishes the government’s credibility in dealing with fundamental human rights,” said Chairman Smith.
On September 16, Ukrainian investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, editor of an Internet newspaper critical of official, high-level corruption in Ukraine, disappeared. In early November, a body believed to be Gongadze’s was found outside Kyiv.
On November 28, Oleksander Moroz, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, made public sensational tape recordings purportedly of President Kuchma and two top aides suggesting how they could deal with Gongadze. Moroz received the tapes from an officer of the Ukrainian Security Service who is now in hiding in Western Europe.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.