Antonio Russo was a freelance reporter with solid experience in Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda, Colombia and Ukraine. From 1995 he worked for Radio Radicale for whom he went to Kosovo where he remained, the only western journalist in that region during the NATO bombings, until March 31st 1999 to document the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovar Albanians.
Antonio Russo died on the night between the 15th and 16th October 2000 in Georgia, where he was a Radio Radicale correspondent to witness the war in Chechnya. He was 40 years old. His lifeless body was discovered on a country roadside 25 kilometres from Tbilisi, having been tortured with techniques attributable to specialized military units. The material he had with him – videotapes, articles, notes – was not found, even his accommodation in Tbilisi had been burgled (without the valuables having been touched). The circumstances surrounding his death have never been clarified. At the funeral that took place in Francavilla a Mare, his hometown, his mother said: “The only thing that consoles me is that it was a death consistent with his life”.
(from Memorial Day of journalists killed by mafia and terrorism, Rome, 2008)
(Updated by Luciana Borsatti – 3 May 2020)
On the death of Antonio Russo two investigations immediately began, one in Georgia and the other in Rome, but the investigations do not lead to anything concrete.
- 2000 – A few days after the killing of Antonio Russo, his mother, Beatrice Russo, told a press conference at the Radio Radicale headquarters that her son, a couple of weeks before his death, had spoken to her on the phone about a cassette with shocking content: “He spoke of children with horrific mutilations and wounds all over their bodies, disfigured corpses. Antonio said he would denounce the work of the Russians to the United Nations “. Then, the day before he died, he told her that he would be back in Italy in a few days and that he had given the cassette to a translator : a tape that she and Antonio’s Georgian friends were unable to find. The suspicion that continued to be talked about in subsequent years is that, in addition to the violence, the reporter also documented the use of unconventional weapons by Russian forces on civilians and children. The autopsy carried out in Georgia had meanwhile ascertained that Russo had died with his chest smashed as a result of a violent blow with a blunt object. On October 18th the Rome Public Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation against unknown persons for murder entrusted to prosecutor Italo Ormanni and the Rome Police who immediately got in touch with the Georgian judiciary through agents of the Special Branch (DIGOS). The double investigation, to which the Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze was also committed as well as the Italian and international press, appeared not, however, to have shed light on the motive and perpetrators of the murder
- 2001 – On November 27th it emerges that the forensic examination carried out as part of the Georgian investigation had ascertained that Russo had been killed and that the murder took place in a place other than the place of discovery, 25 kilometres from Tbilisi where the reporter had rented accommodation for his work in Chechnya. A large plaster band was found on his clothes which would have served to shut his mouth while he was brutalized. The coroner appointed by the Roman prosecutor Vittoria Bonfanti also speaks of compatibility between his injuries and the murder, while all the elements that emerged suggest that the reporter was killed for a reason related to the video material collected. According to the British newspaper The Observer, Russo had been murdered by secret agents or Russian military, the same ones who committed crimes against civilians in Chechnya, and who then “tortured, killed and abandoned him at the side of a country lane”.
- 2003 – An ad hoc investigative structure is created at the General Prosecutor of Georgia whose operation will however be limited by the internal political events that led in November of that year, following the “Rose Revolution”, to the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze.
- 2014 – In October the Italian government submits a formal request to the Georgian judiciary for a thorough investigation into the assassination of Russo. This was announced on November 19tht by the deputy Gianni Melilla (from the Left Ecology Freedom party), after having received an answer from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, of which Emma Bonino is responsible, to two questions on the matter. “In this context – reports the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – there will be an early request for a coordination meeting between the General Prosecutor of Georgia and the Italian Embassy in Tbilisi”. The same deputy from Abruzzo presents questions to the government every year, for a total of five up until October 2017, “to find out what the government is doing to get the truth from the Georgian authorities about the journalist’s murder “.