20 November 2002
RSF offers independent expert to help investigation into journalist's disappearance
(RSF/IFEX) - On 19 November 2002, RSF expressed concern over official statements concerning the recent discovery in Belarus of a body that may be that of Mikhailo Kolomiets, head of the news agency Ukrainski Novyny.
The organisation called on Ukraine's general prosecutor, Svyatoslav Piskun, to personally take up the case and offered to send a French pathologist to help in the investigation. The organisation also asked him to take into account contradictions in evidence it had gathered and not to rule out the possibility of a contract killing.
Kolomiets disappeared on 21 October. His news agency reported him missing on 28 October, noting that it may have been linked to his journalistic work and the agency's occasional criticism of the authorities. Police said he had left Ukraine for Belarus on 22 October and made phone calls to his staff, his family and a friend on 28 October. Police said he told them he had left the country with the intention of killing himself.
Evidence gathered by RSF is contradictory. Kolomiets' friends said that in his phone calls, he had not indicated his intention to kill himself. They also noted that he was not depressed and had no personal reason to commit suicide. His mother denied police statements that she had been in regular contact with her son since his disappearance.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuri Smirnov announced the discovery of Kolomiets' body on 18 November in Belarus. His body was found hanging from a tree in a forest near the town of Molodeshno. Volodymyr Yevdokimov, a Ukrainian Interior Ministry official, told the media it was clearly a case of suicide and unconnected to the journalist's work.
RSF is concerned by these hasty conclusions, announced before the launch of an inquiry. Olexandr Zarubitsky, a spokesman for the Belarusian Interior Ministry, was more cautious, saying that the body had not yet been identified.