Remember Gyorgy Gongadze as well as Martin O'Hagan - 'politicians cannot be neutral to this'

Don’t forget murdered journalists

IT'S "just not good enough" for European institutions to put aside vital freedom of speech cases like that of murdered journalist Gyorgy Gongadze, NUJ general secretary John Foster told a public meeting on the issue on Tuesday 9 October.

Foster said he would write to the Foreign Office to demand UK support for an independent international inquiry into the death of on-line journo Gongadze, who was murdered last year possibly at Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma's behest.

Olena Prytula (centre) with Sara Whyatt, programme director of International PEN and a member of London Freelance Branch (left) and Simon Pirani.

"When journalists like Gyorgy Gongadze or Martin O'Hagan are killed, the public's right to know is undermined," said Foster. "Politicians cannot be neutral to this."

Other points of an action plan he suggested included lobbying the Irish government, meeting with the Ukrainian ambassador, taking the issue up with EU human rights institutions and appealing to the Russian journalists' union for support.

Foster was responding to an appeal for support by Olena Prytula, editor of the Ukrainska Pravda web site on which Gongadze worked, who was in London as a guest of the NUJ to highlight the case. "President Kuchma has said he wants an inquiry, but his actions contradict his words. Our hope is that he will agree to the international inquiry now being proposed in Brussels."

Reporters Sans Frontières representative Jean-Christophe Menet pointed out that Gongadze was the 13th Ukrainian journalist killed in five years. But accusations of the president's involvement - triggered when a former Kuchma bodyguard released audio tapes that apparently showed the president conspiring with senior ministers to harm Gongadze - made the case especially important.

Sarah de Jong of the International Federation of Journalists said all campaigning efforts should be co-ordinated internationally. The European parliamentary committee on human rights should be approached, she suggested.

Simon Pirani of the LFB, which sponsored the meeting, reported that an MP who had been asked for support by telephone on Monday 8 October, the morning after the bombing of Afghanistan began, had said "you'll never get anyone to step out of line and be critical [of Kuchma] in a week like this". That was unacceptable, he argued - the "war against terrorism" made press freedom campaigns more important, not less.

The visit to London by Olena - who also met with people at the House of Commons, BBC, Daily Express, Independent, Guardian and London University while here - was organised by LFB with national union support.

Last modified: 11 October 2001 - © 2001 contributors
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