KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has taken personal control of the investigation into the disappearance and suspected murder of a campaigning journalist, after his attitude to media freedom was questioned by international watchdogs.
Vasyl Klymentyev, editor of the weekly Novy Stil newspaper in the industrial city of Kharkiv, was last seen on August 11th getting into a silver BMW with an unknown man. Six days later, his mobile phone was reportedly found on a boat adrift on a nearby reservoir.
Police sniffer dogs and divers searched the area but found no trace of the reporter, whose newspaper is known for probing corruption among politicians and major businessmen in Kharkiv and eastern Ukraine, which is Mr Yanukovich’s power base.
The case carries grim echoes in Ukraine of the kidnapping and murder in 2000 of journalist Georgiy Gongadze, missing for several months before his decapitated body was found outside Kiev.
Though he denied the allegations, then president Leonid Kuchma was accused of sanctioning the murder. Public anger over the case and his administration’s harassment of the media helped fuel the 2004 Orange Revolution that brought pro-western leaders to power.
Ukraine developed a vibrant and outspoken media in recent years, but journalists in Ukraine and experts abroad complain that pressure is again mounting on the press under Mr Yanukovich. He took office in February and is closer to the Kremlin than to Brussels or Washington.
“Law-enforcement bodies in the Kharkiv region and the whole of Ukraine must do everything – the possible and the impossible – to find the journalist,” Mr Yanukovich said as he ordered top security officials to report to him.
Petro Matvienko, Mr Klymentyev’s deputy, said the missing man had been threatened after refusing to take money to drop a story about a regional prosecutor accused of accepting bribes.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said press freedom in the country had “deteriorated markedly in recent months”.