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Wednesday, 14 February, 2001, 14:35 GMT
Ukraine's 'censorship killing'
Masked protester
A masked protester hands out anti-Kuchma leaflets in Kiev
A European human rights watchdog has described the death of Ukrainian opposition journalist, Georgiy Gongadze, as a presumed case of "censorship by killing".

By trying to silence, you produce the contrary - an explosion of non-silence

Freimut Duve
Freimut Duve, Media Freedom representative of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), demanded that "all acts of harassment of the media... should cease immediately".

Speaking at a news conference in Vienna, he stopped short of accusing the authorities of responsibility for Mr Gongadze's death - a case which has triggered an unprecedented series of demonstrations in Kiev calling for President Leonid Kuchma's resignation.

Mr Duve was challenged by a Ukrainian diplomat who repeated allegations made by Mr Kuchma in a television address to the nation on Tuesday, that political extremists were responsible for whipping up passions and destabilising the existing government.

Investigation call

"Some forces are trying to force our president to change his policy, internal and foreign policy," Victor Kryzhanivsky, Ukraine's deputy representative to the OSCE, told the AFP news agency.

Myroslava Gongadze
Mr Gongadze's wife, Myroslava, is calling for a murder investigation
Demonstrators blame Mr Kuchma for the journalist's death because, in audio tapes smuggled out of the country by a former bodyguard, his voice is heard urging a government minister to "get rid of" Mr Gongadze.

Mr Kuchma says the tapes have been edited to distort his meaning.

Describing the tape as "manufactured," Mr Kryzhanivsky said: "Who is behind it? Those political forces that are (in) opposition to the president, the left wing of the society."

Mr Kuchma, in his joint address with the prime minister and chairman of parliament, blamed "National Socialists".

Freimut Duve called for a new effort to investigate the Gongadze case.

Criminal or political motive

Mr Gongadze, 31, the founder and editor of online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda ("Ukrainian Truth"), disappeared last September and his headless, acid-burnt body was discovered in November.

To kill journalists is to kill the freedom of your country

Freimut Duve
An adviser to Mr Duve, Alexander Ivanko, told News Online that to describe Mr Gongadze's death as a case of "censorship by killing" was not necessarily to blame the government.

"What we hear from people in Ukraine is that Mr Gongadze was highly critical of the president and wrote about corruption. There are two elements to this - corruption and criticism of the executive."

He added: "If it's a purely criminal case they should say so, and provide evidence."

An OSCE report on the case said the investigation so far had been "extremely unprofessional".

Slow probe

Mr Kryzhanivsky also lamented the "slow pace" and "low professionalism" of the investigation into Gongadze's death, and said steps would taken to speed it up.

But he said: "There is no reason for the president to step down, because the investigation is going on. I'm sure it will reveal really who is hiding behind the scene, but it's not the president."

A Vienna-based press lobby group, the International Press Institute (IPI), announced this week that it had been asked to help verify the authenticity of the disputed tape.

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See also:

14 Feb 01 | Media reports
Ukraine's leaders appeal to the nation
11 Feb 01 | Europe
Analysis: Kuchma under pressure
12 Feb 01 | Europe
Ukraine crisis timeline
13 Feb 01 | Business
Analysis: Ukraine's economy
10 Jan 01 | Europe
Headless journalist 'identified'
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ukraine
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