Political instability plagued 2006 due to tension between pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko (elected after the 2004 “Orange Revolution”) and his rival Viktor Yanukovich, who returned as prime minister after the breakup of the ruling coalition. The greater press freedom achieved in 2005 was reduced by physical attacks on journalists and failure to complete the trial of the killers of journalist Georgy Gongadze.
The home of Lilia Bujurova, editor of the weekly Pervaya Krimskaya and president of the Crimean Association of Independent Journalists, was set fire to in the Crimean capital of Simferopol in the early hours of 1 March 2006. She blamed the attack on her publication of a list of crime-linked candidates in the 26 March Crimean parliamentary elections.
Other journalists were threatened or physically attacked during the year. Volodymyr Katsman, editor of the paper Stolichnye Novosti, was badly beaten up in his apartment building on 8 April by two thugs with sticks and hospitalised with serious head and arm injuries. The paper received an envelope contained white powder and a note on 8 June. Someone claiming to be one of the attackers threatened his colleagues, especially investigative journalist Sherhy Kovtunenko, warning that they would have no protection and that calling in police would not help. The official probe into Katsman’s beating has made no progress and the paper has asked for police protection for the two journalists.
Margarita Zakora, editor of the weekly Dzerzhynets in Dniprodzerzhynsk, was hounded personally and by legal officials over several months. The paper, launched in January 2006, had become popular with a campaign against corruption among regional officials, who filed 19 almost-identical lawsuits against Zakora. Shots were fired at her apartment in June after the paper had criticised a businessman, Aleksander Spektor. After a second critical article, Spektor distributed pornographic leaflets about her and her 20-year-old daughter, including their addresses. Zakora asked for police and court protection but despite solid evidence of this harassment, no action was taken.
Vladimir Lutiev, editor of the weekly Evpatoriskaya Nedelia, was sentenced to eight years in prison on 12 July for alleged corruption after being held since June 2005 when former Crimean MP Nikolai Kotliarevsky accused him of attempted murder. Lutiev had often criticised him in print for electoral fraud and corruption and Kotliarevsky is being prosecuted in two criminal cases. The court trying Lutiev refused to hear defence witnesses or evidence, according to his lawyer, Viktor Oveshkin, who said the journalist was being hounded by former local officials because he had accused them of corruption.
Five organisers and triggermen accused of killing Igor Alexandrov, head of the TOR TV station in the Slaviansk region of Donetsk, in 2001 were sentenced to between two and a half and 15 years in prison on 7 June by an appeal court in Lugansk after a two-month trial. The journalist had been beaten with a baseball bat on 3 July 2001 and died of head injuries four days later in hospital. In autumn 2003, the public prosecutor’s office announced the killers had been identified and members of a criminal gang charged.
A court in Kiev resumed hearings on 14 September in the trial of the accused killers of journalist Georgy Gongadze, editor of Ukrainskaya Pravda, two days before the sixth anniversary of his disappearance. Neither his mother Lessia nor his widow Myroslava were present and the countless obstacles in the case increased fears that those really responsible would never be brought to justice. The “Melnichenko tapes” disclosed by the media indicated that the decision to get rid of Gongadze was made at the highest levels of government, but despite the change of regime and promises by President Yushchenko, who opened the trial to the public, the investigation has made no progress. Yushchenko said the day the trial resumed that Gongadze’s name had become “a symbol of political change and freedom of expression” in Ukraine. But the constant problems with the case do not bear out this optimism and more and more people accuse prosecutor-general Oleksandr Medvedko of trying to slow down the investigation and influence its outcome. Gongadze’s widow said in mid-August she would sue the prosecutors. Hearings since then have involved contradictory evidence on the two key questions of whether Gongadze was killed because of his journalistic work and whether his work threatened the then President Leonid Kuchma or one of his aides.
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