Reporters Without Borders called January 25 for the trial of the suspected killers of journalist Georgy Gongadze to be held in open court and expressed concern and surprise at a judge’s decision yesterday to hold it in secret.

Judge Irina Grigorieva also banned journalists from the courtroom, citing article 40 of the criminal code and said evidence likely to reveal state secrets may be heard behind closed doors. Questioning of the accused, arguments in the case and announcement of the verdict will all be in secret.

“Her decision is unacceptable and increases our fears about the handling of the case of Gongadze,” who was murdered in 2000, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “She admits the trial is highly political but refuses to provide all the openness it should have. The trial is a test for the country’s newfound democracy and its new president, Viktor Yushchenko, who made solving the case a priority. It now seems some of those implicated in the murder still have enough power to keep some of the evidence hidden.”

Yushchenko, who took office in January last year, promised last March he would speedily resolve the murder of Gongadze, who was editor of the online newspaper Ukraïnska Pravda. Three policemen accused of killing him - Valery Kostenko, Mykola Protassov and Olexander Popovitch - went on trial in Kiev on 9 January. But the hearing only lasted an hour because the judge said there was not enough space in the courtroom for any more than a few journalists. The next hearing was on 23 January.

Judge Grigoryeva also initially refused a request for senior officials such as former President Leonid Kuchma and current parliamentary speaker Volodymir Lytvyn to be called as witnesses. Kuchma and Lytvyn are among those suspected of giving the orders for Gongadze’s murder. The judge changed her mind on this point yesterday.


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