Missing Ukrainian Journalist Threatened Before Disappearance

By Andrey Volkov
Andrey Volkov
Andrey Volkov
August 22, 2010 Updated: August 23, 2010

The case of Ukrainian journalist Vasyl Klymentyev, who went missing almost two weeks ago, is no closer to being solved with human rights organizations pointing out several irregularities in the investigation.

Vasyl Klymentyev, an editor and reporter for Novyi Stil (New Style), an investigative newspaper in Kharkiv, was last seen on Aug. 11 outside his home. His girlfriend told police that Klymentyev had entered a metallic-gray BMW with an unknown man, reported the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

CPJ and Reporters Without Borders have both reported the case and urged Ukrainian authorities to fully investigate.

According to reports from both press freedom organizations, a few days after he disappeared, Klymentyev’s mobile phone was found in a boat drifting on a reservoir, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Searches of the area by local authorities yielded no results.

Novyi Stil in known for its reports on corruption, local government irregularities, and social injustice.

The newspaper’s Deputy Editor Petr Matviyenko believes Klymentyev’s disappearance is linked to his professional work. Talking to local media, Matviyenko said that Klymentyev had been threatened several times before, and had been offered bribes to keep quiet over damaging evidence he collected on some Kharkiv region officials.

Matviyenko said that a few days before Klymentyev disappeared he wrote an exposé on corruption over illegal logging. His article focused on a 74-acre stretch of land outside Martove, a village not far from Kharkiv, where trees were illegally felled. His article criticized a local prosecutor and the head of the regional tax department, Stanislav Denysyuk, according to local media reports. Denysyuk was named as being in charge of logging in the area.

Reporters Without Borders (French RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists have strongly urged local authorities to give the case their full attention as an attack on the press.

"Given that Klymentyev's newspaper was known for its critical coverage of authorities, we urge investigators to focus on his journalism as a motive," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova in a statement.

RSF pointed to some strange developments in the investigation including abusive police power in searching Klymentyev’s property.

The organization reported, based information from on Klymentyev’s son Oleg, that after the first police officer's visit to Klymentyev’a house turned up nothing unusual, the police returned for a second visit.

According to Oleg, Dzerzhynskiy District police arrived at the home and "forced the front door and, without showing a warrant, took away items without completing an inventory."

“As the case had not yet been defined as criminal, the police had no right to conduct a search,” the RSF said in a statement last week.

Another oddity highlighted by RSF was that judicial authorities decided to categorize the case as a possible “premeditated murder” even though the family had only reported the case as a "disappearance."

Press freedom has decline sharply in Ukraine since Russian-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych assumed power earlier this year. Journalists complain that the government has become less responsive and there are few open meetings with the press.