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Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party a criminal organization, court rules

Magda Fyssa, whose son was killed by a Golden Dawn supporter in 2013, throws up her arms in celebration after court ruling
Magda Fyssa, the mother of slain Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, who was killed by a supporter of the far-right Golden Dawn party in 2013, celebrates the court ruling.
(Petros Giannakouris / Associated Press)

A Greek court ruled Wednesday that the far-right Golden Dawn party was operating as a criminal organization. Landmark guilty verdicts from the court follow a politically charged five-year trial against dozens of defendants.

The court ruled that seven of 18 former Golden Dawn lawmakers, including Nikos Michaloliakos, the head of the party, were guilty of leading a criminal organization. The others were found guilty of participating in a criminal organization.

Golden Dawn, which has long been accused of committing xenophobic violence and espousing neo-Nazi views, became Greece’s third-largest during the country’s desperate financial crisis.

As news of Wednesday’s guilty verdicts broke, cheers and celebrations erupted among the crowd of at least 20,000 people at an anti-fascist rally outside the Athens courthouse. A small group threw Molotov cocktails and stones; police responded with tear gas and water cannons.

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The marathon trial examined four cases rolled into one: the 2013 fatal stabbing of Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, attacks on Egyptian fishermen in 2012 and on left-wing activists in 2013, and whether Golden Dawn was operating as a criminal organization.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the verdict “ends a traumatic cycle” in the country’s public life.

“Its political dimension has, fortunately, been judged by the victory of democracy, which expelled the Nazi formation from Parliament [in elections],” he said. “Now, the independent judiciary is giving its own answer.”

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The three-member panel of judges also found Giorgos Roupakias guilty of the murder of Fyssas, prompting applause inside the courtroom and among the crowd outside. Roupakias had been accused of being a party supporter who delivered the fatal stab wounds to Fyssas.

Another 15 defendants — none of them former lawmakers — were convicted as accomplices in the killing.

Leaving the courthouse, Fyssas’ mother, Magda Fyssa, who had attended nearly every court session over the last five years, raised her arms and shouted: “Pavlos did it. My son!”

Thousands of people have spent another night in the open on the Greek isle of Lesbos after two nights of fires in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp.

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All five people accused of the attempted murder of the Egyptian fishermen were also found guilty, while the four accused of attempted murder in the attacks against left-wing activists were found guilty of the lesser charge of causing bodily harm.

Only 11 of the 68 defendants were present, with the rest represented by their lawyers. None of the former Golden Dawn lawmakers were in court.

“The ruling demonstrates that they were just a gang of knife-wielding thugs who took their orders from the top,” said Thanassis Kambayiannis, one of the lawyers representing the fishermen.

At the crux of the case was whether the string of violent attacks could be linked to Golden Dawn’s leadership. Golden Dawn has denied any direct link to the attacks and described the trial and charges against the party’s leadership as an “unprecedented conspiracy” aimed at curbing its rise in popularity.

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After the verdicts, defense lawyers began summations ahead of sentencing, a process that could last several days. Those convicted of leading a criminal organization face up to 15 years in prison, while the others face up to 10 years. Roupakias faces a life sentence for Fyssas’ death.

“Today marks a huge victory for justice and respect for Greece and the entire world,” Eva Cosse, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said. “It sends a strong message that hate crimes are not, and should not be, tolerated in a democratic society.”

Security was tight at the courthouse, with about 2,000 police, drones and a police helicopter deployed.

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The crowd at the anti-fascist rally waved banners with slogans such as “Fyssas lives, crush the Nazis.” More than 5,000 people held a similar rally in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

The Trump administration pumps up military and diplomatic relations with Greece, in a warning to neighboring Turkey.

Outside the courthouse, protester George Kounanis, who works as an employment-equality campaigner for LGBTQ workers, said he was relieved by the verdict.

“We have lived under the threat they posed for years. They have beaten, threatened and verbally abused same-sex couples. They hate everything that is not Greek and macho,” he said. “But we [were] never cowed and never stopped speaking out against them. So it does feel like a vindication. A lot of people supported them, so we cannot be complacent.”

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Politicians from across the political spectrum, from the governing conservative New Democracy party to Greece’s Communist Party and the former governing left-wing Syriza party, also attended the rally.


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