Mr. Speaker, it has been almost three weeks since the highly disturbing disappearance of Heorhii Gongadze, a journalist known for his articles exposing corruption in the Ukraine and for playing a prominent role in defending media freedoms.
Mr. Gongadze, whose visit to the United States last December included meetings with the Helsinki Commission staff, was publisher of a new Internet newspaper called Ukrainska Pravda (meaning Ukrainian Truth), a publication often critical of senior Ukrainian officials and their associates. In fact, shortly before he vanished, Mr. Gongadze had apparently been facing pressure and threats and had complained that police were harassing him and his colleagues at Ukrainska Pravda. Unfortunately, Mr. Gongadze’s disappearance takes place in an increasingly unhealthy media environment. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, his disappearance follows several suspect or inconclusive investigations into the suspicious deaths of several Ukrainian journalists over the last few years and the beatings of two journalists following their articles about official corruption this year. This disappearance has occurred within an environment which has made it increasingly difficult for professional journalists to operate, including harassment by tax police, criminal libel prosecutions, the denial of access to state-controlled newsprint and printing presses, and phone calls to editors suggesting that they censure certain stories. Such an atmosphere clearly has a chilling effect on press freedom.
Mr. Speaker, I am encouraged that the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukraine’s parliament, has formed a special ad hoc committee to investigate Mr. Gongadze’s disappearance. I am also hopeful that the Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and other law enforcement agencies will conduct a serious, vigorous investigation to solve the case of this missing journalist. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and as someone who has a longstanding interest in the Ukraine, I am deeply disappointed that the Ukraine’s relatively positive human rights record has been tarnished by an environment not conducive to the development of a free media. I remain hopeful that the Ukrainian authorities will make every effort to reverse this situation.