An open letter to the President of Ukraine, Minister of Internal Affairs, General Prosecutor of Ukraine
I, Aleksey Matsuka, editor-in-chief of “Novosti Donbassa” [Donbass news], am writing to you to bring your attention to the dangers of being a journalist in Ukraine today.
At 2pm on 31 July, unknown arsonists attempted to burn me alive in my apartment in Donetsk. They closed my front door with bags of cement, set the door alight and waited for my death. They left me a memorial wreath, and confirmed the seriousness of their intentions in messages sent to my mobile phone. I was not at home. My neighbours reacted quickly, called for the fire brigade and only because of this none of those living in the block suffered death or injury. But the irredeemable could also have happened: not only I, but other neighbours who happened to be at home on Sunday, could also have died. Our building was built in the 1940s, with wooden coverings in the entrance, and these would have gone up in flames in a matter of minutes.
Police have opened a criminal case on charges of “hooliganism”. The unashamed sarcasm and inappropriateness of this classification reminds me of the very wreath that the arsonists left in my hallway. What can the actions of a hooligan annoying citizens in a city centre shopping centre have in common with the arson of an old, partly wooden apartment block? An arson that could have caused the death of more than a dozen people, and did cause significant material damage?
The attackers were very clear in their objectives — to destroy me and my apartment. There is a mass of unambiguous evidence to support this: from the memorial wreath to the SMS-messages and the bags of concrete wedged against my front door. It is impossible to classify this crime as anything other than attempted murder, a attack, moreover, carried out at great danger to the lives of many others (points 5, part 2 of article 115 of the Ukrainian criminal code). I am also certain that this attack came the result of my professional activity, in other words making it subject to a charge under article 171, “harassment of a journalist carrying out his professional duties”. The investigating authorities seem to have ignored all these facts.
When filing the criminal case, investigators would have been asked to consider whether I could have died as a result of the fire, had I been home. The answer to which is: of course. And if the investigators decided the case was not attempted murder, then it follows that the criminals must have known I was not at home. Since the authorities are apparently sure of this, then it would follow they know who the criminals are. And if they don’t know, then clearly the case should be filed as an attempted murder!
I ask you, respected public officials, to note that the entire journalistic community (and not only in Ukraine) is following this matter very closely, and that an inadequate investigation in the first instance discredits you, the government. I ask you to assist in properly reclassifying the case from “hooliganism” to “attempted murder, carried out at danger to the lives of many others and connected with (my) professional journalistic activity”.
My story has provoked a ferocious reaction among my colleagues because they all understand the same could happen to them at any moment. This is why it is essential that this case is investigated in the fastest and most effective way possible. For this to happen, the investigation must be taken under your personal control.
If, on the contrary, the police do not find the guilty people; if the threats are to be repeated and I am forced to leave the Donetsk region; and if something happens to me, one thing will be clear — the responsibility will lie exclusively with you.
I am certain the people who did this will be found and punished.
Editor-in-chief, Novosti Donbassa