October 16, 2000, in Ujarma, GeorgiaRusso, 40, was found dead by the side of a mountain road near the village of Ujarma, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, according to local and international press reports. He worked for the Italian station Radio Radicale, based in Rome, and was affiliated with the Transnational Radical Party.
Initially, investigators found no injuries or other traces of violence on Russo's body. But an autopsy revealed that Russo had died from multiple broken ribs and lung injuries, inflicted by a blow to the chest from a dull object. Georgian forensic experts found that the journalist had died at approximately 2 a.m. on the morning of October 16.
When police found Russo's body some 14 hours later, they also recovered a rope that had evidently been taken from the journalist's apartment and then used to tie him up. According to press reports, the apartment had been searched and looted; Russo's laptop computer, mobile telephone, video camera, and three videotapes were missing.
Georgian authorities did not rule out the theory that Russo had been killed because of his journalism. At least one official suggested that an unnamed "foreign intelligence service" played a role in his death, implying that Russian authorities were unhappy about Russo's frequent contacts with Chechen rebel forces. According to some reports, he planned to return to Italy at the end of October with video footage that allegedly showed Russian forces in Chechnya using weapons that violated international humanitarian conventions.
However, these accusations may simply reflect animosity between Russia and Georgia over the latter's alleged support for the Chechens. Some officials also speculated that Russo might have died as the result of a robbery.
As a foreign correspondent for Radio Radicale, Russo had previously covered conflicts in Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda, Colombia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Although Russian authorities denied him an entry visa to Chechnya, Russo entered the breakaway republic illegally on several occasions to interview Chechen military commanders and former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov.
Motive Unconfirmed: CPJ is investigating to determine whether the death was work-related.
- JAPANESE JOURNALIST MISSING IN CAUCASUS , September 26, 2001
- Attacks on the Press 2000: Georgia, March 19, 2001
- Georgia: Italian radio reporter found dead near Tbilisi, October 24, 2000