KIEV, Ukraine -- The International Press Institute (IPI) expressed concern today over the safety of Ukrainian journalist Vasyl Klymentyev, who has been missing in the country for 10 days.
Klymentyev went missing on Wednesday 11 August after leaving home with an unidentified man, according to local police reports. Ukrainian press freedom organisation, the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), has now expressed fears that Klymentyev may be dead after his mobile phone was reportedly found on a boat on a lake in the eastern region of Kharkiv.
Klymentyev, the editor-in-chief of the Noviy Stil newspaper, which focuses on corruption issues in Kharkiv, was known for his criticism of law enforcement agencies and, according to Associated Press (AP), he had been threatened after refusing money to kill a story about a regional prosecutor accused of accepting bribes to close criminal cases.
Police are investigating the case, with Klymentyev’s disappearance now classified as “premeditated murder”, although no motives or suspects have been officially identified.
After yesterday’s announcement that Interior Minister Anatoly Mogylyov was to take personal control of the case, AP reported today, 20 August, that President Viktor 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 Thursday 19 August 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 Mr. Klymentyev’s disappearance may have been linked to his work, we are extremely concerned for Mr. Klymentyev’s well-being,” said 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 Viktor 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.