Russia, Ukraine must stop killing Journalists

Speech at the Council of Europe on the terrible plight of journalists under Putin in Russia and successive Ukrainian governments.

27 January 2008

Mr MacSHANE (United Kingdom). – It is a great pleasure to follow our colleague Mr Haibach’s excellent speech. The Gongadze case is a symbolic one, perhaps, for those of you who know French history, like the Ben Barka case of the 1960s or Watergate in the 1970s. It is clear that the highest levels of the state were engaged in the Gongadze murder – that is the important point – and the cover-up is unacceptable. That it should continue in the region – in Ukraine, in Russia and in neighbouring states – is not an excuse for failing to ask those in power during the Kuchma era to accept responsibility.
We all congratulate Frau Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger on her excellent report. The Gongadze case has become one of the most important freedom of expression cases this century. It was not a murder in a conflict zone or a war or a murder in a very violent country where lots of people are killed, which is something that Colombia has experienced in recent years; it was a cold-blooded, systematic, organised murder. You do not cut off the head of a journalist and put it somewhere else without wanting to send a clear signal.
As I have said, the case goes back to Leonid Kuchma, but those who have followed him – the presidents, prime ministers, justice ministers and police ministers of Ukraine – bear some responsibility, for not accepting that the case should be properly investigated. There has been a systematic failure in the Ukrainian political system, both before and after the Orange Revolution, and that is what we must look at.

But it is also a reflection of the culture in the post-Soviet space where freedom of expression is constantly under threat.
Anastasia Barburova, a stunningly beautiful young girl – I can call her a young girl as she was little older than my daughter – was shot dead at 25 years of age by a hired gunman in an open street in Moscow using a Makarov, an official Russian police gun. The gunman did not even run away or drop his weapon, but caught the metro because he knew, such is the uncultured hate of free journalism in Russia, that no one would try to stop him. The paper’s lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, was the real target and was shot dead, but as young Anastasia ran out after the killer, he turned round and shot her in turn. Both victims were members of anti-fascist organisations, and were exposing the extreme right that is taking a terrifying grip in Russia and spreading its tentacles elsewhere in Europe. The message from Russians is that if one has power and money, the free journalists of Russia can be extinguished.
We should not allow a crucial, civilised culture of free expression in today’s Russia to co-exist with the uncultured values that defy Council of Europe norms and all human rights in both Russia and Ukraine. I ask the Council of Europe to examine the work of the International Federation of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists. In Murmansk, the editor of the regional news agency, RAA, Mr Amrakov, was killed two weeks ago. He also wanted to expose what the authorities were doing, and was denied access to Mr Putin’s last press conference. Mr Putin’s comments after the death of Anna Politkovskaya are still remembered by every journalist in the free world.

I suggest that the Council of Europe, which has wonderful historical exhibitions about victims of human rights abuses, should exhibit the faces of the 70 – yes, 70 – journalists killed in Russia and Ukraine since 1993. At least then we would honour their memory and the profession of journalism. We should say to the authorities in Ukraine and Russia that Stalin is meant to be dead and that freedom of expression is now part of the democratic values to which everyone in the Council of Europe should sign up. If they do not sign up, we should denounce them for allowing those murders to happen.