Today marks the 12th anniversary of the disappearance of Georgiy Gongadze, journalist and founder of 'Українська Правда' (Ukrainian Truth), who was abducted on his way home to his family. On the night of November 2-3, a farmer discovered a headless corpse outside the town of Tarashcha, and local journalists immediately speculated that it might be Gongadze's. Regional officials placed the death of the body before the date of Gongadze's disappearance, but colleagues who visited the morgue concluded that the body was Gongadze's, based on jewelry found at the scene and an X-ray of the corpse's hand, which showed an old shrapnel injury matching one that Gongadze had suffered while covering the conflict in Abkhazia, a region of Georgia.

The cover-up over Gongadze's death continued, particularly when a tape recording was released that implicated the then President, Leonid Kuchma, in orders for his death.  It was not until 2008 that the Kyiv Court found that three former officers of Ukraine's State Security Services were responsible for Gongadze's death. Criminal proceedings against Kuchma were dropped in 2011, and a further suspect, Oleksiy Pukach is still on trial. President Yanukovych has said that the government will ensure that the law runs its course properly.

Journalists today are holding memorial services in Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine, remembering, not only Georgiy Gongadze, but 63 other journalists who have been killed in suspicious circumstances since 1991. Among these are Vasily Klymentyev, editor of Noviy Styl in Kharkiv, who disappeared in 2010 only days after photographing the lavish homes of local officials. For a full list of the journalists who have died, click here.

The independent organisation, Reporters without Borders, has said that the climate of media freedom in Ukraine has worsened significantly since 2010 when President Yanukovych came to power. It has highlighted the continued harrassment of the independent broadcaster TVi and the draft law which would criminalise libel and defamation. It's latest report on media freedom in the world ranks Ukraine 116th out of 179 countries - below Kyrgyzstan, Ecuador and the UAE, and just above Cambodia and Zimbabwe.

At a recent conference in Kyiv, President Yanukovych said that media freedom in Ukraine was improving and that the problem was around negative perceptions and stereotypes from those who did not understand Ukraine's circumstances. It appears, however, that everyone understands the threats to a free and independent media all too well.


Ukrayinska Dumka


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