MOSCOW — A Ukrainian court sentenced a former security official to life in prison Tuesday for the death of Georgy Gongadze, a journalist whose mysterious death in 2002 provoked an international outcry and helped set off protests against the president at the time, Leonid D. Kuchma.
The former security official, General Oleksei Pukach, who once headed a surveillance department for Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, testified that he had not intended to kill Gongadze, but strangled him with a belt accidentally in the course of an interrogation. He is the highest-ranking official to be convicted in Gongadze’s death.
Gongadze went missing in 2000 and his body was found two months later, beheaded, in a forest 75 miles from Kiev, the capital. He had infuriated the president with muckraking publications in Ukrainskaya Pravda, an Internet newspaper he had founded.
The killing came to epitomize the role that crime had come to play in Ukrainian politics and provoked a wave of demonstrations that some describe as the first manifestation of the 2004 Orange Revolution.