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Ukrainian president urges intensive search for missing investigative journalist

'Artists against censorship' demonstrates in support of Ukraine's Channel 5 and TVi television stations in Kyiv on August 16.

President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine is taking control of the case of an investigative journalist who has gone missing. In that role, Yanukovych ordered top law enforcement officials on Friday to "make every possible and impossible effort" to find Vasyl Klymentyev, the editor of a newspaper in the eastern city of Kharkiv.

Klymentyev, chief editor and reporter for the Kharkiv-based weekly newspaper Novyi Stil (New Style) has been missing for almost two weeks. According to local news reports, on August 11, Klymentyev was seen leaving his home in the city of Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, with an unknown man in a BMW. The reports did not specify who saw Klymentyev that day. He has not been seen or heard from since. The journalist's girlfriend reported his disappearance to authorities on August 12, Kharkiv regional police said in a statement.

Police are investigating the case, with Klymentyev’s disappearance now classified as “premeditated murder”, although no motives or suspects have been officially identified. After an earlier announcement that Interior Minister Anatoly Mogylyov was to take personal control of the case, the Associated Press (AP) reported that President Yanukovych would be taking control of the case. Yanukovych was quoted as ordering the police to “make every possible and impossible effort” to find Klymentyev. On August 19, Mogylyov had said that police had not ruled out that Klymentyev’s disappearance was linked to his reporting.

“Given the deterioration of press freedom in Ukraine, the climate of impunity surrounding attacks on journalists, and the reported statement from the police treating the case as a suspected murder and suggesting Klymentyev’s disappearance may have been linked to his work, we are extremely concerned for Klymentyev’s well-being,” said International Press Institute (IPI) Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills. “We urge the authorities to do everything in their power to thoroughly investigate his disappearance.”

Speaking to IPI about Klymentyev’s disappearance, independent broadcaster TVi director Mykola Kniazhytskyi said, “When those guilty of beating journalists are not prosecuted it breeds the atmosphere of impunity in the entire country. It is about as likely that Vasyl Klymentyev will turn up alive and unharmed as UFOs landing in Ukraine.

“Instead of ‘taking it under his personal control’ interior minister Anatoly Mogylyov should just ensure that the investigation proceeds according to law. And not only this investigation but other investigations of attacks on journalists as well. If this was done, his personal intervention would not be needed. Instead it can be reasonably feared that his ‘personal control’ means control over the information that might be unpleasant to the current government.”

Concern over the deterioration of press freedom in Ukraine has been growing. In an open letter to President Yanukovych last week, IPI called attention to a rise in attacks on journalists along with a growing climate of impunity, and a court case which may result in the loss of broadcasting licenses for two independent TV broadcasters.

In a recent development, a Kiev court decided to cancel the allocation of broadcasting frequencies to two privately-run TV channels - TVi and 5 Kanal, following apparent discrepancies in their licences. TVi director Kniazhytskyi told IPI that, “a number of topics became off-limits.” According to another IPI source in the country, 5 Kanal’s website was recently hacked and forced offline. It has since been restored.

Press freedom was particularly dire during the ten year presidency of Leonid Kuchma, who ruled until 2005. The low point came with the disappearance and murder of Georgiy Gongadze, the editor of the critical Internet newsletter Pravda Ukrayiny. His decapitated body was found on the outskirts of Kiev some two months after he went missing in September 2000.

There had been a marked improvement in press freedom since the Orange Revolution of 2004, although a number of concerns remained. Since the election of President Yanukovych in February 2009, the press freedom climate has again deteriorated.

Date posted: August 24, 2010 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 136