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World: Gongadze Widow Speaks Out On Daniel Pearl's Murder

  • Jeffrey Donovan

The murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan appears to highlight a new trend to target reporters around the world because of what they write or what they represent. But it also sparked an outpouring of sympathy for Pearl's widow. Our correspondent Jeffrey Donovan spoke with someone who knows exactly what she's going through.

Washington, 25 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Few can empathize with the pregnant young widow of slain American reporter Daniel Pearl quite like Myroslava Gongadze.

Last week's news that "The Wall Street Journal" journalist Pearl had been murdered by his kidnappers in Pakistan sparked revulsion around the world and expressions of sorrow for his young widow, Mariane, who is seven months pregnant with their first child.

U.S. and Pakistani officials confirmed that 38-year-old Pearl was killed, apparently by Islamic militants, after being abducted in the Pakistani port of Karachi while trying to interview Muslim extremists. Pakistani officials were quoted as telling U.S. media that a videotape shows Pearl telling his captors "I'm a Jew, my mother is a Jew" before they slit his throat and decapitated him.

U.S. President George W. Bush expressed outrage at the murder while Pearl's newspaper and many people sent their condolences to the widow and unborn baby he left behind.

But Myroslava Gongadze has actually lived a similar tragedy.

Like Pearl, Gongadze's husband Heorhiy was a young investigative journalist who was kidnapped and killed by his captors near Kyiv. His gruesome killing in 2000 implicated senior government officials in Ukraine, including President Leonid Kuchma, who were allegedly angered at his writing on suspected official corruption.

The two murders are strikingly similar, though they each came under different circumstances. Gongadze was apparently killed for what he reported; Pearl for what he represented: the U.S. and Judaism. The killings also highlight what seems to be a growing trend around the world to murder journalists.

The two widows are also similar. Both must raise children without a father, and both -- like their husbands -- are journalists. Myroslava Gongadze, who is 29, is now raising two young daughters in addition to working as a freelance correspondent for RFE/RL in Washington.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Gongadze praised Pearl's widow for her statement on 22 February in which she vowed that the murder would not break her spirit. Gongadze says she had a similar reaction to her husband's murder.

"This kidnapping, and now violent killing, by terrorist kidnappers has deeply affected me. First, I would like to express my support to his wife. I lived through a similar tragedy. I have two young children and a similar thing was done to my husband, simply because he wanted to tell the truth to people. I understand her perhaps better than anybody else. She must be strong and give birth to a healthy baby. I am with her with all my heart."

Gongadze says killing journalists is "medieval" and amounts to destroying people whose sole purpose is to find the truth and report it. She says the real "war on terrorism" must be aimed at those responsible, whether they are professional terrorists or perhaps linked to rogue government officials.

"The leaders of the most powerful nations in the world must realize that terrorism has its beginnings when crime goes unpunished. Investigating and bringing to justice those responsible for the killing of Heorhiy Gongadze, the killing of Daniel Pearl, the disappearance and killing of hundreds of journalists in Zimbabwe, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and China will be the best example of a war against terrorism."

Both the U.S. and Pakistani governments have vowed to bring Pearl's killers to justice. The Pakistani government has arrested some suspects, including a British-born Islamic militant who confessed to the abduction but whose testimony has been contradictory and whose role remains unclear.

Pearl was kidnapped last month while researching possible links between "shoe bomber" Richard Reid -- the man suspected of trying to use a bomb in his shoes to blow up an American Airlines jet en route from Paris to Miami last December -- and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network of Osama bin Laden.

For two years, Pearl, a reporter widely praised for his objectivity and sensitivity, had been his paper's South Asia bureau chief. His wife's pregnancy had apparently caused him to decide not to do any reporting in neighboring Afghanistan, which he considered too great a risk.

Mariane Pearl's statement dismissed revenge for her husband's killing as too easy. She said, "It is far more valuable, in my opinion, to address this problem of terrorism with enough honesty to question our own responsibility as nations and as individuals for the rise of terrorism."

The statement added that she hoped she "will be able to tell our son that his father carried the flag to end terrorism, raising an unprecedented demand among people from all countries not for revenge but for the values we all share: love, compassion, friendship, and citizenship far transcending the so-called clash of civilizations."

So far, the war in Afghanistan has been more deadly to journalists than to U.S. or British soldiers. Nine foreign reporters, including Pearl in Pakistan, have been killed since the war's start in October. This compares with only one American combat casualty.

Joe Urschel is executive director of Freedom Forum, a Washington foundation dedicated to media rights and free speech. Urschel tells RFE/RL that of the 51 journalists his group estimates died last year while on the job, most were killed not for what they represent, like Pearl, but for what they write about, like Gongadze. "That, I believe, is more common. And the majority of those murders would be related to some sort of rogue government retribution."

But Urschel says a trend that began in the recent Balkan wars has continued in the Afghan war, where reporters have been killed to make a political statement. Urschel says that Daniel Pearl, whose executioners apparently targeted him because he was Jewish and American, is simply the latest, and most extreme example, of such a killing.