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RSF asks to take part in international inquiry into case of missing journalist Georgiy Gongadze

(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to President Leonid Kuchma, RSF asked to be allowed to take part in an international investigation into the disappearance of journalist Georgiy Gongadze. The president has agreed in principle to the setting up of an inquiry.

"Only an investigation of this kind can fully respond to the urgent need to shed full light on this matter, expressed both by the Ukrainian people and by international observers," RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said. "The Ukrainian authorities' commitments regarding press freedom cannot be regarded as credible as long as the case of Georgiy Gongadze's disappearance has not been cleared up."

According to information collected by RSF, on 20 December 2000, President Kuchma accepted in principle an international investigation into the case of Gongadze, the missing journalist. Founder and editor of the website, an online newspaper that is highly critical of the government, Gongadze, 31, went missing on 16 September. In the weeks leading up to his disappearance, he had been questioned on several occasions by the police, and in a letter to the state prosecutor, he condemned what he described as "premidated intimidation", intended to frighten him or prevent him from doing his work. He had published articles on his web site condemning corruption among certain high-ranking Ukrainian officials.

Various factors indicate that a headless body found in November in the Tarachanskyi region, near Kiev, could be that of Gongadze, but experts' findings have still not been made public. Also in November, a Ukrainian secret service officer said that the highest authorities in the country, including President Kuchma and the interior minister, could be directly involved in the journalist's disappearance. President Kuchma has condemned the statements as "serious manipulation."

RSF recalls that despite the Council of Europe's threats to suspend Ukraine's membership in 1999, the country's press freedom situation deteriorated significantly during 2000. Ukraine has joined the list of countries where press freedom is in serious trouble. Attacks and threats against journalists have been increasing. At least twenty such attacks have been recorded by RSF since 1 January.

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