Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned about inconsistencies in the evidence for the Ukrainian authorities’ claim to have solved news website editor Pavel Sheremet’s 2016 murder, and urges them to continue the investigation and to be more transparent as they do so.
After a flawed three-and-a-half-year investigation, the police announced last month that they had arrested five suspects, all veterans of the war in the eastern Donbass region, for the murder of Sheremet, the editor of the online daily Ukrainskaya Pravda, who was killed in Kiev on 20 July 2016 by a bomb placed under his car seat.
But the claim to have solved the case is based on four disputed expert reports and the prosecutor’s office is refusing to release all of the evidence in its possession. The leading suspect has lodged a complaint against the president and interior minister, there have been attempts to pressure and blackmail certain witnesses, and now a series of revelations in the past few days has cast further doubt on the investigation.
In particular, the news website thebabel.net has revealed that, according to the official analysis of CCTV footage, the height of the man who placed the bomb in Sheremet’s car was about 170 cm and the woman with him was about 165 cm whereas, according to his lawyer, the height of the leading male suspect, the musician Andrei Antonenko, is 180 cm.
“The need to know the truth about Pavel Sheremet’s murder is urgent, especially as another journalist was murdered in Ukraine in 2019,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We call for more transparency from the Ukrainian authorities in this investigation, which offers the opportunity to really begin combatting impunity, and in which not just the perpetrators but also the instigators should be identified and brought to trial.”
The official investigation was relaunched after the 2017 release of “Killing Pavel”, a documentary made jointly by investigative journalists with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Slidstvo.info.
“I’m not saying they have arrested the wrong people, I don’t know,” said Slidstvo.info editor Anna Babinets, who participated in the research for the documentary. “But one thing is clear, the evidence produced for charging them is not solid enough.”
Sheremet’s former colleagues at Ukrainskaya Pravda says they are “shocked” by the prosecutor-general’s account and, in particular, by the claim that the murder motive was to “destabilize the country.” This makes no sense, they say. Until now, the police had worked on the assumption that Sheremet’s murder was a reprisal for his journalistic activities.
William Taylor, a Kiev-based US diplomat, has meanwhile revealed that interior minister Arsen Avakov turned to other countries for help with the investigation. The only government minister who kept his position after Volodymyr Zelensky became president in May 2019, Avakov was told to produce results by the end of 2019.
In over words, he had a strong political motive for getting the investigation concluded, regardless of the cost and, according to Taylor, even Avakov seems to doubt the validity of its findings.
Ukraine is ranked 102nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.