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Investigative journalist in Ukraine killed by car bomb

The murder of Pavel Sheremet in Ukraine recalls the 2000 killing of another high-profile investigative journalist.

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    A portrait of Pavel Sheremet is surrounded with flowers and candles at the site of his death in Kiev, Ukraine, on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. The prominent journalist was killed in a car bombing in Ukraine's capital on Wednesday, sending shockwaves through the Ukrainian journalist community.
    Sergei Chusavkov/AP
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Prominent Ukrainian journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed by a car bomb in central Kiev early on Wednesday as he prepared to drive to the local radio station, where he anchored a talk show.

An adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister wrote in a Facebook post that an improvised explosive device had been planted on the underside of the car, which belonged to Olena Prytula, Mr. Sheremet's romantic partner and a founding editor of the online news site where he worked. The adviser said the device was either a delayed-action bomb or remotely operated, and it could have contained up to 600 grams of TNT explosive. 

The Ukrainian government says Ms. Prytula will be placed under protection. In televised comments made from the crime scene, Ukrainian interior minister Khatiya Dekanoidze said that she would personally supervise the investigation into the murder.

Friends and family of Sheremet and Prytula told Russian media that the two had complained of being followed. Ms. Dekanoidze did not rule out the possibility that the murder could have been in reprisal for Sheremet's and Prytula's journalistic efforts.

"We are looking at all theories," she said, according to the Associated Press. Dekanoidze called the case "very important, a matter of honor" for Kiev police.

The 44-year-old Belarusian-born journalist had been a thorn in the side of authorities in his home country and in Russia for nearly two decades. In 1997, he and a Russian camera crew were convicted by Belarusian authorities of illegally crossing its border with Lithuania and sentenced to prison after publishing an investigation into cross-border smuggling operations. Declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, he was released after three months amid pressure from Russia.

It was far from his final run-in with the Belarusian government. In subsequent years, he was frequently beaten and detained, including one 2004 incident in which he suffered a concussion at the hands of two unidentified men – then later faced charges of "hooliganism." In 2010, his Belarusian citizenship was revoked.

Sheremet also spent several years in Russia, where he founded an independent website, Belaruspartisan.org, devoted to Belarusian news. In 2014, he departed for Ukraine, citing a better environment for independent reporting, after what he described as pressure from Russian media heads over his coverage of opposition protests in Kiev.

Advocates typically regard Ukraine as among eastern Europe's most progressive on press freedoms, with the exception of regions controlled by Russian-backed separatist movements. This year, Reporters without Borders ranked it 107th out of 178 countries, crediting a fragile ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia with a "significant fall in abuses" but warning of a "worrying information war with Russia."

"The authorities have adopted a number of reforms, including media ownership transparency and access to state-held information, but wealthy businessmen still keep a tight grip on the media," the group wrote.

The murder is reminiscent of the 2000 slaying of Heorhiy Gongadze, who founded the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper where Sheremet worked. Abducted in September of that year, Gongadze’s decapitated body was later recovered in a forest. An interior ministry official was convicted in connection with the murder in 2013, though it was never determined who ordered it. Senior political figures, including Ukraine’s then-president, have been accused of involvement by rights groups. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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