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General arrested for murder of journalist in 2000

Georgy Gongadze
Georgy Gongadze

AP/Sergei Chuzavkov

Nine years after the barbaric beheading of prominent Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze, a general has been arrested, report IFEX members. General Oleksiy Pukach was arrested this month for the murder - a case which has been riddled with high level cover-ups. But IFEX's Ukrainian member, the Institute of Mass Information, warns the upcoming trial of Pukach is unlikely to lead to the arrests of the more powerful officials responsible.

Gongadze's decapitated and burned body was discovered outside of Kiev in 2000. An autopsy revealed he died by strangling. The publisher of the Internet journal "Ukrainska Prawda", Gongadze exposed government corruption and was an outspoken critic of then-President Leonid Kuchma. Shortly after the murder, the President's former bodyguard leaked secret tape recordings of a conversation between Kuchma and then-interior minister Yuriy Kravchenko, in which the president allegedly discussed killing the journalist. Kuchma said the voice was his but that his words had been doctored.

The first convictions in Gongadze's case came only last year, with 12- and 13-year jail sentences for three policemen involved in the kidnapping and murder. In that trial, the policemen alleged that Pukach, who led the interior ministry's surveillance department in 2000, was the one who committed the murder. Pukach reportedly confessed to the murder shortly after his detention on 23 July and implicated other officials, various news sources reported.

The BBC and IMI report that days after the General's confession, investigators unearthed what is believed to be fragments of Gongadze's skull in Kiev district.

IMI lawyer Roman Golovenko said, however, that Pukach's testimony in itself will likely be insufficient to convict more senior officials. He explained that the passage of time and the 2005 death of Kravchenko in a dubious suicide make it difficult to try the politicians who ordered the murder - and have evaded justice thus far. Still, Golovenko believes Pukach's testimony will be important in terms of shedding light on who physically committed the murder.

In a separate statement, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) appealed to authorities to use the detention of Pukach as a springboard to arrest the ringleaders in the murder.

"The murder of Georgy has been a tale of turns and twists which many believe were diversionary tactics to shield powerful individuals who are behind it from accountability," said IFJ president Jim Boumelha "That is no longer an option with the arrest of Pukach and the information he is able to disclose. We expect the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

Gongadze's death, in part, spurred the Orange Revolution that brought President Victor Yuschenko to power in 2004. The Yushchenko government's handling of the case has disappointed many, however, with human rights groups across the globe criticising the government for not making more progress in the investigation.

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