(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 27 November 2002 IPI letter to President Leonid Kuchma:
Vienna, 27 November 2002
Convening for its biannual meeting on 23 November in Vienna, Austria, the Executive Board of the International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, expressed concern about events surrounding the death of Mykhailo Kolomiets, the well-respected founder and director of Ukrainsky Novyny, an independent Ukrainian news agency.
On 18 November, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry announced that the body of Kolomiets had been found hanging from a tree in Belarus. When found, Kolomiets had been missing from his home for four weeks. Some of his colleagues had reportedly expressed concern that his disappearance could be connected to his critical reporting on the Ukrainian government.
The co-owner of Ukrainsky Novyny, Volodymyr Hranovskiy, has asked Ukrainian authorities to consider murder as a possibility. He does not believe it was suicide. On 21 November, Hranovskiy said he does not understand why he has yet to be interviewed by police, as his telephone number was one of the last used by the deceased. Olga Kolomiets, the journalist's mother, has identified the body as that of her son, and also refuses to believe that he committed suicide. She has requested the Ukrainian General Prosecutor's Office to file a criminal case and conduct forensic tests in the matter. She has also requested that an independent expert be invited to carry out an investigation. The Paris-based press freedom organisation, Reporters sans Frontières, has offered to provide such an expert in order to solve the case.
In IPI's opinion, the question of whether or not Kolomiets killed himself, as some media reports and some Ukrainian officials have suggested, should be investigated in a fully transparent and public manner. Both the Coroner's report and the police investigation should be conducted in an open way, preferably involving independent experts.
The IPI Executive Board urges Your Excellency to do everything in your power to ensure public scrutiny of all evidence in the case of Kolomiets' death.
IPI would like to remind Your Excellency that 18 journalists have been murdered since Ukraine became a republic in 1991. In particular, the killings of Georgiy Gongadze in 2000 and Ihor Alexandrov in 2001 remain unsolved. IPI requests that everything possible is done to remove the doubts that surround the death of Kolomiets. To fail to do so would reinforce the belief that Ukrainian journalists are murdered with impunity.
We thank you for your attention.
Johann P. Fritz
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