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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 18:49 GMT
Doubts over Ukrainian 'gun law'
Two journalists were killed and more than 10 became victims of attacks this year
Ukrainian journalists say they are living in fear
The Ukrainian Government has responded to a wave of attacks on journalists over the last 15 months by allowing them to carry guns that fire rubber bullets.


Rubber bullets can never save a reporter's life, not even one

Journalist Lilia Buchurova
But some journalists say the measure is worse than useless.

"Rubber bullets can never save a reporter's life, not even one," said the head of a regional association of journalists in the southern Crimea peninsula, one of the country's most violent regions.

The head of Ukraine's Union of Journalists, Ihor Lubchenko, said that if a reporter carried a gun, he was even more likely to be shot himself.

Many journalists believe that the greatest danger comes from the authorities themselves, following the notorious murder of opposition journalist Georgiy Gongadze a year ago.

Picture of Gongadze
Protesters held candle-lit vigils to demand the truth about Georgiy Gongadze

The Gongadze scandal rocked the entire country and almost brought down president Leonid Kuchma.

About 10,000 people took to the streets in the capital, Kiev, demanding the resignation of Mr Kuchma and several government ministers.

"Gongadze's murder shows that the government does all it can to censor the media, and to cover up the truth," Lilia Buchurova told BBC News Online.

"Censorship and secrecy are the main problems we face. What the government needs to do is to punish those who attack the media with impunity."

Deaths
Georgiy Gongadze: September 2000
Oleg Breus: June 2001
Igor Alexandrov: July 2001
The decree allowing journalists reporting on politics, corruption and crime, to carry guns was passed by the Minister of Interior on Friday.

Mr Gongadze was renowned as a vocal government critic and had been investigating links between government, big business and crime.

Not long afterwards, television journalist Igor Alexandrov, was killed as he probed the affairs of local authorities and criminal circles in the eastern town of Slavyansk.

Mr Gongadze was beheaded, while Mr Alexandrov was beaten to death by attackers wielding baseball bats.

President Leonid Kuchma
Kuchma denies any role in Gongadze's death

Mr Gongadze's former colleague, Olena Prytula, who took over from him the editorship of the Ukrainska Pravda internet newspaper, said the gun proposal was an empty measure - effectively a government admission of powerlessness to solve the problem.

Protesters accused President Kuchma of direct involvement in the disappearance and possible murder of Mr Gongadze.

He denied any wrongdoing.

The international pressure group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, has described Mr Kuchma as one of the biggest enemies of media freedom, while the Paris-based Reporters sans Frontieres says Ukraine has the worst record in Europe for violence against journalists.

This year more than 10 journalists have been the victims of violent attacks.

See also:

28 Nov 01 | Media reports
Press mourns failure of Ukraine democracy
17 Jul 01 | Media reports
Nervous times for Ukraine journalists
27 Feb 01 | Media reports
Kuchma rejects Ukraine murder claims
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