Journalists going to war zones are collective witnesses that document the facts and stem the disproportionate and inhuman use of military force. Too often those who kill them go unpunished.
Firing on unarmed civilians is a very serious crime, both in peacetime and in time of war. It is perhaps even more of a crime if the targeted civilians are journalists intent on documenting in the public interest what happens, public witnesses committed to show what is really happening on the ground, without taking sides in the conflict. So whoever shoots at reporters, whoever kills them, actively participates in murder and cannot justify it by simply saying that a war was going on and during wars these things can happen. This is not enough to demonstrate one’s innocence if one cannot show everything possible to avoid the death of unarmed witnesses has been done.
All this is contained in the sentence with which on the 12th July 2019 the Court of Assizes of Pavia sentenced the soldier of the Ukrainian National Guard, Vitaly Markiv, to a 24 year prison term, holding him responsible for the killing of the photojournalist of Pavia Andrea Rocchelli.
Vitaly Markiv faced trial in custody. The prosecution requested his sentence, but also proposed an act of clemency asking the Court to acknowledge his mitigating circumstances. In this way, the penalty would have been reduced from 24 to 17 years. Some have interpreted this clemency as a sign of weakness and the defence counsel believed it could easily obtain full acquittal. Both were wrong. The Court found him guilty and did not grant the extenuating circumstance proposed by the prosecutor.
There can be no extenuating circumstances, the sentence reads, for those who, wearing a uniform, signal as a target from a distance of 1500 meters, a taxi carrying two journalists and their unarmed interpreter. Nor can the commander be allowed to evade responsibility for having received the report and activated the intense mortar fire on the unfortunate reporters, killing two. The Court, therefore, has already begun the process to incriminate and even put on trial that commander. There was surprise and protests among the defendant’s supporters and the verdict will probably be reviewed on appeal. It is to be hoped that the sentence will be confirmed, because it indicates a categorical “no” to the fatalism that has always dominated these events, justifying, forgiving, reducing the crimes to collateral damage of little importance by which they eliminate from the crisis areas and from war zones the most awkward witnesses, the journalists who could document inhuman acts against civilians or the disproportionate and instrumental use of military force. Journalists, with their presence, with their activity, put an end to these and other serious abuses.
This sentence has already aroused surprise and the protests of the defendant’s supporters, according to whom the evidential context does not justify the sentence. All this will be reviewed in the appeal process. Therefore, the civilized world cannot be lenient towards those who eliminate these witnesses.
There are many journalists killed in these circumstances. UNESCO statistics say that the impunity for these murders is almost absolute. The sentence of Pavia interrupts this impunity. In this sense it is a significant sentence which, among other things, expresses the desire for peace that animates the Italians. When full justice has been completed, the justice that the family of Andrea Rocchelli asked for as the only consolation of their pain, there will be time and a way to treat with clemency those who have done wrong.
Ossigeno per l’informazione in collaboration with La Provincia Pavese, National Union of Italian Reporters and the Journalists Order of Lombardy has ensured a special, timely and regular account of the progress of the trial sessions in the Court of Pavia where the alleged perpetrator of the killing of the Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli and the Russian journalist Andrey Mironov was tried and sentenced.
This text like the other reports of Giacomo Bertoni has been published on the ossigeno.info website and has been sent to the OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media in Vienna, who is following the story closely.