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PUNISHED FOR CHORNOBYL NEWS. On 20 April in Vytebsk, militia officers beat up Anton Medzevetsky, who was distributing a special Chornobyl issue of "Rabochy" newspaper. Two militias officers pushed Medzevetsky into a car, handcuffed him, and beat him, supervised by Sergeant Afonin. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 22 May)
PARLIAMENT AMENDS AUDIO/VISUAL LAW... The parliament on 18 May amended the Audio/visual Law, introducing two new categories of license for broadcasts of foreign radio and television programs. The first category makes it possible for foreign radio and television stations to directly broadcast programs in Moldova, while the second category allows the relay of broadcasts via Moldovan stations. The sponsors of the amendment said the new licenses will bring considerable revenues to Moldova's depleted state budget. For example, a license for direct television broadcasts could bring up to $70 million per year, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Currently, Russian, Ukrainian, and Romanian state television, as well as a number of private radio and television stations, are broadcasting programs in Moldova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May)
THE USES OF 'KOMPROMAT' OUTLINED. An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 May says that the appearance in the press of transcripts with compromising materials ("kompromat") about presidential administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin might reflect either the work of his enemies, his friends, or himself. Meanwhile, an article in "Novye Izvestiya" on the same day said that kompromat may appear about newly appointed Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin and argued that such materials are intended to immunize the population against any incriminating material that does turn up. That in turn shows that "the authorities are refusing to accept any negative information about members of the upper echelons, proclaiming a special kind of sovereignty with regard to muckraking and virtually branding all complaints not sanctioned by the Kremlin against state officials as acts of political sabotage." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May)
KORZHAKOV SAYS PROFESSIONALS BEHIND KREMLIN TAPES. At a press conference in Moscow on 16 May to discuss the publication of transcripts of tapes of conversations between presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin and powerful Russians, former director of the presidential security service Aleksandr Korzhakov said he published the tapes because they show the nature of Kremlin behavior, Interfax reported. He said that government security officers were involved, just as was the case in Ukraine. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May)
OPPOSITION ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF REMOVING MONUMENT TO DEAD JOURNALISTS. Yuriy Lutsenko, a leader of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" opposition movement, has accused the authorities of removing the memorial plaque to dead Ukrainian journalists that was unveiled on 21 May without official permission by opposition groups in Kyiv, Interfax reported on 23 May. "I think that the only reason [for removing the plague] was the criminals' fear of seeing the list of their victims and, all the more so, their fear that this list could be seen by many thousands of people," Lutsenko noted. The city administration told the agency that it had not given any orders to remove the plaque. According to Lutsenko, the plaque was dismantled in the early morning of 23 May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May)
KYIV REPORTER HOSPITALIZED AFTER ATTACK. Late at night on 25 April, four men attacked journalist Andrei Masalsky in Kyiv. The offenders have been detained and the victim is in hospital. Until recently, Masalsky was a reporter for the "Silski Visti" newspaper and is still officially on its staff. Other reports claim he has joined the "Chas" newspaper. The Public Relations Center of the Head Department of the Ministry of Interior in Kyiv told the press that they exclude any link to Masalsky's professional activities. (Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, 22 May)
Last week, Ukraine's interior minister, Yuriy Smyrnov, announced that police had solved the murder of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The case of the journalist's death last autumn has become a national sensation. Allegations that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma might be involved in the murder have led to widespread demonstrations calling for Kuchma's ouster.
But on 15 May, Smyrnov said the killing had not been politically motivated. He said Gongadze's murderers were common criminals who were later murdered themselves. A map showing the location of Gongadze's grave had been found on one of their bodies, he added. Smyrnov went on to say that those responsible for the killings of the two murderers are now in custody. He also referred to the involvement of a mysterious crime boss nicknamed "Cyclops." He added that "as [interior] minister, I consider the crime to be resolved. We have proof concerning the criminals, who have died, to our sorrow."
Smyrnov's announcement, however, does not spell an end to the case. The Ukrainian press has reported that the Prosecutor-General's Office, in comments to the lawyer of Gongadze's mother, called Smyrnov's statement "premature" and said that the matter has not yet been concluded. Deputy Prosecutor-General Mykola Obikhod said his office will issue a full response to Smyrnov's statement this week. Many opposition politicians -- as well as Gongadze's widow, Myroslava -- have called Smyrnov's announcement a deliberate attempt to confuse the public and deflect attention from Kuchma's possible role in the murder.
Myroslava Gongadze says Smyrnov's version of events is, in fact, a fabrication. "Right now we're witnessing the latest in a series of announcements which, in my opinion, Internal Affairs Minister Smyrnov had no right to make," she said. "[I say this] because the investigation is being conducted by the ProsecutorGeneral' s Office, and only the Prosecutor-General's Office can say whether the matter has really been concluded and talk about the results of the investigation. Therefore, I have no reason to trust [Smyrnov's] announcement. Actually, I haven't trusted him for a long time, and in the present situation I have even more reason to distrust him."
The investigation into the disappearance and murder of Gongadze has been plagued by confusion and conflicting information from the start. Gongadze disappeared from Kyiv last September. The following month, a headless corpse -- later identified as his -- was found in a woods south of the city. Gongadze had been an outspoken critic of President Kuchma, who he claimed was involved in corrupt business dealings. A former Kuchma bodyguard then came forward with audio recordings he said he had secretly made of conversations between the president and his advisers. The recordings appeared to show that Kuchma had wanted action taken to silence the outspoken journalist. Kuchma has consistently denied the authenticity of the recordings. But his political opponents -- and thousands of ordinary Ukrainians -- are convinced the recordings proved the president's involvement in Gongadze's death. Mass demonstrations have followed, with protesters calling for Kuchma's resignation.
The official investigation into Gongadze's murder also has been criticized by Gongadze's relatives and a number of Ukrainian politicians. Some Western governments and entities such as the Council of Europe have also expressed doubts that the investigation is being conducted in a proper and transparent manner. Ukrainian authorities at varying times have alleged that the corpse found in the woods outside Kyiv is not Gongadze's, and for months refused to allow the journalist's relatives to examine the remains. Oleksandr Kryvenko, a spokesman for the opposition Forum for National Salvation, described Smyrnov's version as a "fairy tale." He said it is obvious that criminals murdered the journalist but that that in itself does not exclude a political motive.
Gongadze's widow, who is now in the United States after being granted political asylum last month, said the police in the past had deliberately muddled the investigation into her husband's death and continue to do so now. "The fact is that, in this matter, the Prosecutor-General and the police have distinguished themselves with many statements which later have not been substantiated and where, in a normal society, they would have had to be corrected. From the very beginning there were announcements that it was not a politically motivated matter, and then that the corpse that was found had been reburied there, and so forth. The police made these announcements, and when the Prosecutor-General's Office investigated, they could not substantiate the police claims," Myroslava Gongadze told RFE/RL.
Ukraine's Interior Ministry was reluctant to comment on the Prosecutor-General's Office's continuing investigation into the case. A ministry spokesman, who preferred to remain anonymous, said Smyrnov is not prepared to issue any more details regarding the Gongadze case. "The minister said that he is not going to discuss the details. That's probably because the ProsecutorGeneral is still investigating. [There are] probably still some outstanding matters [that] need to be cleared up," the spokesman told RFE/RL.
The spokesman denied that there were any serious differences between the Interior Ministry and the Office of the Prosecutor-General. "I can't make any conclusions. You as a journalist have to draw your own conclusions. There has been a concrete announcement by Smyrnov. As for the Prosecutor-General's Office, I don't know, because I don't work there," the spokesman noted. ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report," 22 May)