The actions of the Malaysia Gazette crew in eastern Ukraine when its chief reporter was filmed using a stick to poke at, and turn over, what appears to be a body part of an MH17 victim, might well be one of the most unconscionable acts at the crash site so far, especially in view of the fact that there were 44 Malaysians on board, of whom 15 were crew and two were infants.
What they did amounts to:
- Desecration of the dead
- Tampering with criminal evidence
- Compromising the integrity of the crime scene
The open unguarded MH17 crash site in the wide farmlands and sunflower fields of eastern Ukraine has been the scene of looting, as well as unthinking and insensitive actions by journalists and video crews, and curiosity-seekers wandering through the wreckage and looking through items that catch their eyes.
MAS’s Boeing 777 aircraft, 9M-MRD, broke up in mid-air after being struck by a surface-to-air missile, creating a debris field stretching over 15km. It is not merely a debris field: it is a crime scene, and every item of debris a potential piece of evidence that may help determine what happened to the airline and the people on board.
It is well-known procedure in such investigations that crash scene bodies are removed, but everything else remains untouched. International investigators have already complained that the site, guarded by separatist militia, has been compromised by people being allowed to wander through the site and picking up debris. Looting has already been reported.
The Malaysia Gazette crew were not the first to go through the area. With the site lyig within a combat zone contested by the Ukraine government and pro-Russian separatists, they will also probably not be the last.
That cannot and does not in any way justify or excuse what they did, or that they were merely at work in search of a story.