A Greek court has delivered an overwhelming conviction against Golden Dawn, finding the neo-fascist party guilty of operating a criminal gang that brutally targeted opponents under the guise of a political group.
At the end of a trial launched more than five years ago, the three-member tribunal headed by presiding judge Maria Lepenioti, announced that seven of Golden Dawn’s leaders were culpable of directing the deadly organisation. Others were found guilty of the lesser charge of participating in the criminal gang.
The judgement was met with jubilation by thousands who had gathered around the heavily guarded court complex ahead of the verdict chanting “Nazis belong to prison.”
Many broke into spontaneous applause as news of the decision reached the street.
“This is a very good day for the anti-fascist movement globally,” said Petros Constantinou, a prominent anti-racist activist. “The decision will send a very important message to the far right in Europe. A conviction today is vital if we are to end the fascist threat. The evidence against them is overwhelming.”
The hearing has been the biggest trial of neo-fascists since the prosecution of the Nazis at Nuremberg after the second world war. Two thousand police officers, many brought in as backup from the countryside amid fears of violent clashes between the protestors and far right supporters, surrounded the area as helicopters and drones flew overhead.
The leftist former prime minister Alexis Tsipras, who was in the crowd, said after years of sowing hate, poisoning Greek society and orchestrating murderous attacks, Golden Dawn fanatics would finally face justice.
Greece puts faith in judges to heal wounds inflicted by Golden Dawn
“They are not innocent. We all know that,” he wrote on social media ahead of the three-member tribunal’s decision. “On Wednesday we ought to be there to shout it loud and clear. We owe it to the history of this country, we owe it to democracy, we owe it to our children.”
The long-awaited verdict ends one of the longest court hearings in modern times.
Golden Dawn’s entire leadership, including former MPs, were among 68 defendants accused of murder, weapons possession and operating a criminal gang while also masquerading as a political group.
Those charged with directing the criminal organisation face sentences of up to 15 years in prison. If found guilty of additional crimes, the jail terms handed down by the criminal court are likely to be longer although justice officials said it may take several days of legal proceedings before they are formally announced.
The accused have vigorously denied the charges, claiming they are victims of political persecution. Michaloliakos, 62, a Holocaust denier and ardent admirer of Hitler whose neo-fascist beliefs began to take form during Greece’s 1967-74 military dictatorship, has described Golden Dawn as a patriotic party of ultra-nationalists. Diehards lower down the chain who have been linked to violent attacks have been disavowed by the leader.
Neither he, nor any other defendant, was expected to be in the court for the judgement.
The far-rightists stand broadly accused of targeting immigrants, communist trade unionists, anti-fascist activists, leftists and gay people, culminating with the fatal stabbing of Pavlos Fyssas, a popular anti-fascist hip-hop artist, whose murder in September 2013 forced Greek authorities to act. A senior operative in the party, Giorgos Roupakios, confessed to killing the rapper.
But the judges, sitting in the court of appeals, have focused on specific cases including whether the group was culpable of the attempted murder of Abouzid Embarak, and three other Egyptian fishermen, in June 2012.
Golden Dawn members have already been found guilty for the killing in Athens of a Pakistani fruit worker, Ssazad Lukman, in January 2013.
The court, which examined evidence that ranged from the testimonies of victims and five former Golden Dawn members now in witness protection programmes to incriminating videos snatched from the homes of the party’s leaders, heard how the attacks increased in frequency after its into the Greek parliament in 2012.
At the height of the country’s debilitating debt crisis, Golden Dawn, riding a tidal wave of popular anger with EU-mandated austerity measures, won 21 seats in the 300-member House to become Greece’s third biggest political force.
In the last general election in July last year, the neo-Nazis narrowly failed to win enough votes to win any seats in parliaments with the party all but collapsing amid infighting and defections since then.
“The accusations against the leaders and members of Golden Dawn, including the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, expose a fissure that exists not just within Greece but across Europe and beyond,” said Nils Muiznieks, Europe director at Amnesty. “The impact of this verdict, in what is an emblematic trial of an extreme far-right party with an aggressive anti-migrant and anti-human rights stance, will be felt far beyond Greece’s borders.”
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