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(Kyiv) – Ukrainian authorities should ensure an effective and impartial investigation into the killing of Vadym Komarov, an investigative journalist who died in Kyiv on June 20, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. Komarov had severe head injuries from an attack by an unidentified assailant on May 4, 2019.

Komarov, 58, lived and worked in Cherkasy, 200 kilometers from Kyiv. He carried out hard-hitting investigations, including of corruption in the local municipal council. A police investigation into the May 4 attack confirmed that the unidentified man attacked Komarov in central Cherkasy and beat him on the head with a blunt object. Komarov was immediately hospitalized in critical condition with a severe brain injury. He underwent surgery following which he was kept in a medically induced coma. On June 20, Komarov died without regaining consciousness.

Cherkasy-based journalist Vadym Komarov. © 2019 Private

“Vadym Komarov was almost certainly fatally beaten because he reported on things some people do not want the public to know,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Ukrainian authorities need to call a halt to the attacks on the country’s journalists and make sure that they can do their jobs. The authorities should start by identifying Komarov’s attacker and bringing him to justice for this horrendous crime.”

The police investigation initially classified the incident as an attack causing intentional bodily harm but later requalified it as attempted murder. The investigators, who connect Komarov’s killing to his work as a journalist, have not yet identified the assailant. Komarov had previously been threatened and attacked for his reporting in 2016 and 2017.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s media representative, Harlem Désir, condemned the attack against Komarov and called for an investigation.

Media freedom has increasingly been under pressure in Ukraine. The media watchdog, Institute of Mass Information, has documented at least six cases of journalists beaten or injured in the first five months of 2019. It reported that 12 more received threats and 48 faced obstruction of their professional activities, including damaged equipment and restricted access. The murder of renowned journalist Pavel Sheremet, in 2016 in central Kyiv, remains unresolved. Attacks against activists and human rights defenders have also been on the rise since 2018.

“As the Ukrainian parliamentary elections approach in July, the country’s leadership needs to take a clear and public stance against violence and intimidation of journalists,” Denber said. “Acting effectively to secure justice for Komarov’s killing would send a strong a message that there will no impunity for attacks against journalists in Ukraine.”

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