Reporters Without Borders, Stop Censorship!, Kyiv Independent Media Trade Union, Mediafront Trade Union of Ukrainian journalists and the Committee for the Protection of Ukrainian Journalists are concerned that the investigation into Novyy Styl editor Vasyl Klymentyev’s disappearance six months ago has ground to a complete halt without anyone being charged.
In an open letter to President Viktor Yanukovych and attorney general Viktor Pshonka, these five organizations call on the attorney general to take over the investigation and to conduct it in a thorough and transparent manner in order to ensure that it does not end up like the failed investigation into Georgiy Gongazde’s murder in 2000.
HE Viktor Yanukovych
President of Ukraine
11 Bankova Street,
Ukraine, 01220 Kyiv,
Tel: +38 044 255 73 33
Fax: +38 044 255 61 61
Paris, 23 February 2011
Dear President Yanukovych,
The international press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders, the civil movement of journalists Stop Censorship!, the Kyiv Independent Media Trade Union, the Mediafront trade union of Ukrainian journalists and the Committee for Protection of Ukrainian Journalists would like to share with you its very deep concern about the disappearance of Vasyl Klymentyev, the editor of the Kharkiv-based regional investigative newspaper Novyy Styl, since 11 August 2010. Six months have gone by but the investigation has made very little progress and no suspect has yet been charged. On the contrary, it seems to have been marred by many irregularities. The local police are nonetheless working on the theory that Mr. Klymentyev was the victim of “premeditated murder” linked to his activities as a journalist.
Shortly before his disappearance, Mr. Klymentyev had been investigating a case of alleged abuse of authority involving several local officials and had been planning to publish a story on the subject in the next issue of Novyy Styl. Accompanied by a police officer, he went to the Pechenizke reservoir near Kharkiv on 11 August to photograph properties owned by regional director of taxes Stanislav Denysyuk and three other local officials. He has not been seen since then. Only his mobile phone and keys were found a few days later in a boat adrift on the reservoir. The area was searched but nothing else was found.
Former attorney general Oleksander Medvedko said on 9 September that his office would take over the case if it was confirmed that it was a murder and if a link with the police was established. Since then it has become clear that Mr. Klymentyev was almost certainly murdered. In view of the probability that local officials were involved, we urge you to assign this case to attorney general Viktor Pshonka.
We fear that the lack of progress in the investigation is directly linked to the fact it is under the interior ministry’s supervision. Several incidents in the course of the investigation have led us to doubt the local police’s impartiality in this case. Firstly, we were surprised that the local prosecutor’s office immediately categorized the case as a “premeditated murder” when Mr. Klymentyev’s relatives had simply reported his “disappearance” Secondly, local police officers carried out illegal searches of the homes of Mr. Klymentyev and his lawyer without a warrant, seizing items illegally. At the same time, Mr. Klymentyev’s partner, Valentina Udovenko, was harassed by the local authorities. Finally, the police officer who accompanied Mr. Klymentyev to the reservoir – the leading witness and probably the last person to see him alive – has himself been missing since September. It seems the Kharkiv police, who are handling the investigation, are trying to slow it down if not obstruct it, and are unable to conduct it in an independent and objective manner.
We therefore ask you ensure that a full and transparent investigation is finally carried out into Mr. Klymentyev’s disappearance. We above all hope that all those responsible for acts of violence against journalists are punished, a desire that you have also expressed on various occasions. The solving of this crime would represent a major advance in the fight against impunity for those who violate the rights of journalists in Ukraine.
It is vital that this case should not end up like the investigation into Georgiy Gongazde’s murder. It would be extremely serious and damaging for Ukraine’s image in the eyes of international bodies and organizations if yet another journalist’s murder went unsolved.
We thank you in advance for the attention you give to our request.
Jean-François Julliard, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general
Stop Censorship! civil movement of journalists
Yuri Lukanov, head of the Kyiv Independent Media Trade Union
Osman Pashayev, head of Mediafront trade union of Ukrainian journalists
Mykola Zakalyuzhny, head of the Committee for Protection of Ukrainian Journalists