Over a year of court sessions – the opposing arguments – extenuating circumstances denied – the photojournalist’s family – the defence counsels.
This report by Giacomo Bertoni was produced by Ossigeno per l’informazione in collaboration with La Provincia Pavese, National Union of Italian Reporters and the Journalists Order of Lombardy to supplement the media reports with an objective, timely and exhaustive account of the progress of the trial underway in the Court of Pavia where the alleged perpetrator of the killing of the Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli and the Russian journalist Andrey Mironov is charged.
This text has been published on the oxygen.info website and has been sent to the OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media in Vienna, who is following the story closely.
“This court condemns Vitaly Markiv to 24 years imprisonment” for complicity in the murder of Italian photojournalist Andy Rocchelli, which happened in Ukraine on May 24th 2014 following intense mortar fire.”
The sentence was read out on Friday 12th July 2019 at 3pm by the president of the Court of Pavia, Annamaria Gatto, and was received by those present in the Sala dell’Annunciata in absolute silence. The Sala dell’Annunciata (Hall of the Annunciation) was packed with journalists, supporters of Markiv, friends of Andy Rocchelli and the public.
The Assize Court also confirmed the request of the prosecutor Zanoncelli to initiate proceedings against Bogdan Matkivsky, at the time the platoon commander, who testified at the trial and was present in the courtroom. The commander, having heard the sentence, left the hall and returned to Ukraine.
The justifications for the sentence will be published within 90 days. From that publication the defence will have 45 days to decide whether to appeal. The decision seems obvious. “We will certainly appeal – the lawyer Donatella Rapetti immediately said -, this is an unjust and inexplicable sentence from the juridical and from the point of view of evidence which is missing. As a soldier of the National Guard, Markiv on the hill on which he was standing had the sole task of reporting suspicious movements to his commander, who in turn had to report to the army commander. No one has fired with the intention to kill an Italian journalist”.
A trial lasting more than a year ended like this. A year during which the prosecuting magistrate Andrea Zanoncelli and the defence lawyers Raffaele Della Valle and Donatella Rapetti clashed repeatedly.
On the one hand, the prosecutor, who had listed the accusations and concluded by asking Markiv to be sentenced to 17 years in prison, considering him guilty of complicity in the death of photojournalist Andy Rocchelli. On the other hand the defence lawyers, who asked for the complete acquittal for not having committed the murder.
More than a year of court sessions during which various consultants and witnesses were paraded to help establish the truth. Among others, the only survivor of the mortar attack, the French photojournalist William Roguelon, who was with Andrea Rocchellli and the Russian interpreter Andrei Mironov who also died.
Roguelon told the judges: “They targeted us, fired on us for thirty minutes, wanted to kill us.” The commander of the National Guard maintained repeatedly: “We were on the hill of Karachun and had no mortars available.”
A clear trial dispute. There have also been episodes of tension between Andy Rocchelli’s friends and supporters of Markiv, who have always crowded into the courtroom of Pavia to express support and solidarity.
In the end the Court of Assizes pronounced a more severe sentence than that requested by the prosecutor, because the Court did not accept the mitigating circumstances of the defendant. Markiv was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
A few moments after the announcement of the sentence, prison officers escorted Markiv out of the hall and took him back to his cell. On leaving Markiv shouted to the Ukrainian community present “Glory to Ukraine” who replied: “Glory to the heroes”.
Some Markiv supporters burst into tears and linked their fingers to form a heart. “There is no evidence, Markiv is just a soldier who fought to defend his country,” many of them repeated.
Markiv’s stepfather, Manlio Rogagni made the accusation: “There is no evidence and there is no motive. In the newspapers, Vitaly was described from the beginning as a murderer, but he was just a soldier defending his country. We are sorry for the loss suffered by the Rocchelli family, but it was only the fault of the war “.
The Rocchelli family left the hall by a side exit, visibly moved. Andy’s mother issued a brief statement to journalists: “This is a very important sentence for Andy, for us, for all journalists working in war zones. Our thanks to the prosecutor of Pavia and thanks to the journalists who have closely followed the story with solidarity”.
The family members then left together with Andy’s friends. With his parents, Rino and Elisa, there was also his daughter Lucia and Andy’s partner, Maria Chiara.
“This is an important sentence – said the director of Ossigeno per l’Informazione (Ossigeno for Information), Alberto Spampinato – because it breaks the long chain of impunity for the killing of hundreds of journalists in war zones”.
There were also expressions of satisfaction from Giuseppe Giulietti, Italian National Press Federation, and Paolo Perucchini, Lombard Association of Journalists who constituted civil parties in the trials. “Rocchelli was in Ukraine – they said – to be our eyes and our ears. He illuminated the darkness thanks to his work. No one can trample on Article 21 of our Constitution “.
Andy’s friends also spoke of press freedom, who in his memory have set up the association “Volpi scapigliate” (Scruffy Foxes). “With this sentence – they said – truth was restored. We hoped for an attribution of responsibility but much more was achieved. It is a page of history that will remain, as a new defence for all journalists working in war zones who try to give a voice to those who do not have it ».