The chandeliered Music Room at the Foreign Press
Association building in London's elegant Carlton House Terrace
was full for the meeting commemorating our murdered colleague
Gyorgi Gongadze on 16 September.
Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the NUJ, noted in opening
the meeting that a key witness in the Gongadze investigation,
Ihor Goncharov, died in police custody
on 1 July. Goncharov was due to testify about death squads in
the Ukraine, including that suspected of killing Gongadze. So
"We have not only this journalist being killed with the apparent
encouragement of senior politicians, but a main witness being
Myroslava Gongadze (right) speaking at the meeting
with Alla Lazareva at left
Around 5000 people took part in a candelit
protest in Kyiv that night. NUJ members in Ireland are approaching
senior politicians there. NUJ members in the Netherlands have
handed a letter to their Ukrainian embassy, and members of the
Italian journalists' union FNSI have done the same.
Other messages of support came from journalists' unions
in Greece and Iceland. The Hungarian journalists' union
is calling for solidarity commemorations in workplaces.
John Barsby, the immediate past NUJ President, described his
fact-finding trip to Kyiv with Aidan White, General Secretary
of the International Federation of Journalists. There they saw
the Minister of Justice, who admitted that mistakes had been
made and evidence had been lost. "We informed them that we were
not satisfied and we would return again and again until we
were sure that everything had been done."
Robert Shaw, safety officer of the IFJ, quoted Aidan White:
governments must "crack down hard on censorship by violence".
The IFJ is calling for a thorough review of the investigations
so far, of evidence that has been just left by the wayside
and of the hugely disappointing
report from the Council of Europe.
Alla Lazareva, of the Institute of Mass Information in
Kyiv, noted how the restrictions of the Soviet era had
been followed by a concentration of media ownership
that led to the same lack of freedom. The only
independent source of information in the Ukraine
now, paradoxically, are internet sites - like the one
that Gyorgi worked on - and Western media.
Lazareva noted the cases of three other journalists who
have died in the Ukraine since Gyorgi's murder.
In the case of Ihor Alexandrov, his family accepted the official
conclusion that he had committed suicide; but the facts
of what happened to his press agency after he died
point to more than that. Another journalist, Volodymyr Yefremov,
died in a car crash. This happened in a remote area, so
how did it happen that there two videos of the crash?
Dennis McShane, Minister for Europe in the UK government
and a sometime President of the NUJ, had sent apologies on the
grounds that he was in the Ukraine, and promised to raise the
case with officials. He was in fact recalled to London on the
evening of the meeting for a parliamentary debate on Europe.
Simon Butt had accompanied McShane to Kyiv as head of the
Foreign Office Eastern Section. He spoke
for the FCO in McShane's absence. He read a message from the EU
remembering Gyorgi and deploring the lack of press freedom
in the Ukraine. He quoted a speech by McShane to students,
including journalism students, the previous day: "Your
prosecutor-general is reported as saying that the clear-up rate
of murders in Ukraine is 97.1 per cent. So we would have expected
more progress in Gongadze's case, and that of Alexandrov"
In meetings with the Foreign Minister and others in Kyiv, McShane
had linked progress in these cases with Ukraine's ambitions to
join the EU and NATO. There were "no great revelations" in the
Then McShane arrived - "we're going to hear the same speech
again!" as someone resembling a General Secretary noted.
"The assault on journalists in the Ukraine is simply unacceptable,"
he said. "When I met the Deputy PM and the Foreign Minister I
reminded them that these are cases to which the UK government
attches high importance. Membership of the EU is clearly important
to Ukraine: and the government has to understand that this means
joining a community of shared values... and those include a free press."
Myroslava Gongadze, Gyorgy's widow, wished that the case
was as much a priority for the Ukrainian government as it
for people in London. The first days of his disappearance
had been the hardest, not knowing what had happened - though
she and their two children had their suspicions, knowing what
he had been working on.
She named President Kuchma and other officials as the plotters
responsible for her husband's murder. The problem is that the
prosecutor's office is looking for the people who killed him,
not for those who ordered this. She is afraid that the "nice
manners" of politicians meeting Westerners will merely delay
naming those actually responsible. (Her prepared statement is
Questioners asked McShane whether lack of progress would block
Ukraine's entry into the EU. He repeated the list of officials to
whom he had stressed the importance of the European Declaration of
Human Rights - and its guarantee of press freedom - "short of
giving sermons in all the cathedrals of Kyiv I don't know how
much clearer I could make it."
LFB committe member Simon Pirani took the opportunity to ask
McShane to take an interest in the case of our member
Besim Gerguri. He wished Besim well.
After McShane had left, Myroslava noted that he'd referred to
the need for an investigation by the prosecutor-general. But
as Pirani observed, this official had already announced how
he was dealing with the investigation - "with the dead body
of the main witness".