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(Berlin) – Ukrainian authorities should ensure that the investigation into the killing of the journalist Pavel Sheremet, is effective, impartial, and thorough Human Rights Watch said today. Sheremet was killed on July 20, 2016 in Kiev in a car explosion that the authorities said was caused by an explosive device.

Sheremet was known for often raising human rights issues in his work, and for his biting criticism of authorities and anti-corruption investigations. Although at this stage, the full facts surrounding the explosion, including those potentially responsible and motives, are unknown, past unresolved attacks on journalists have had a chilling effect on media freedom in Ukraine.

Journalist Pavel Sheremet talks on the air at a radio station in Kiev, Ukraine on October 11, 2015. © 2016 Reuters

“Sheremet’s death is a huge loss and striking reminder that the government needs to respond in the most serious way to threats to media freedom in Ukraine,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Ukrainian authorities should make a prompt and meaningful investigation a priority, considering all the motives for the attack, including Sheremet’s and his partner’s media work.”

Media reports said that Sheremet’s car blew up shortly after he drove off in it at about 7:45 a.m. The car belonged to his partner, Olena Prytula, the owner of Ukrainskaya Pravda, a popular online news outlet where Sheremet also worked. It was reported that Prytula was not in the car at the time of the explosion.
An investigator inspects a damaged car at the site where journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed by a car bomb in central Kiev, Ukraine on July 20, 2016.  © 2016 Reuters

The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that Sheremet and Prytula had recently complained about being followed.

Sheremet, 44, was born in Minsk, Belarus, and worked there and in Russia as a television host and journalist. He was harassed for his work in Belarus and even arrested in 1997 and 2004. For the past five years he had been based in Ukraine, working for Ukrainskaya Pravda and as a presenter at the Vesti radio station.

Sheremet’s journalistic work was internationally recognized. He received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award in 1999 and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Prize for Journalism and Democracy in 2002.

Several hours after the explosion, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko, called the journalist’s death “a murder” in a Facebook post. He wrote that Sheremet’s car had blown up as a result of an explosive device. He promised to “do everything we can to find those who did this.” President Petro Poroshenko wrote in a Facebook post that he had ordered law enforcement authorities to carry out a prompt investigation. The head of Ukraine’s national police force Khatia Dekanoidze said she would “personally take charge of the case.” The Interior Ministry has opened an investigation, categorizing Sheremet’s death as pre-mediated murder.

Georgiy Gongadze, a Ukrainian investigative journalist who founded Ukrainskaya Pravda, where Sheremet worked, was kidnapped and brutally killed in 2000.

In April 2015, a prominent pro-Russian journalist, Oles Buzina, was shot and killed in Kiev. The trial of the two men charged with Buzina’s murder is ongoing.

Beyond upholding the rights to freedom of expression and the media, governments have an obligation to prevent, investigate, and appropriately prosecute abuses against journalists. The UN Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts that provides authoritative interpretations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has made clear that governments violate their obligations under the ICCPR when they fail to take necessary steps to prevent abuses caused by private actors: governments must “take appropriate measures or…exercise due diligence to prevent, punish, investigate or redress the harm caused by such acts by private persons or entities.”

“Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly promised to prosecute and prevent attacks on journalists,” Denber said. “The Ukrainian government should keep these promises and bring to justice people who attack journalists so that Ukraine is a safe country to speak one’s mind.”

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