Magda Fyssa mother of anti-racist Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas, who was killed in 2013 by Golden Dawn supporter Giorgos Roupakias, reacts after a trial of leaders and members of the far-right Golden Dawn party, in Athens, Wednesday. [Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]
A Greek court ruled on Wednesday that the far-right Golden Dawn party was operating as a criminal organization, delivering a landmark guilty verdict in a marathon five-year trial.
The court ruled seven of the party's former lawmakers, including party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were guilty of leading a criminal organization, while the others were guilty of participating in a criminal organization.
As the verdict was announced, scuffles broke out in part of an anti-fascist rally attended by more than 15,000 people outside the courthouse. A small group threw projectiles while police responded with tear gas and use of a water cannon.
The 68 defendants in the trial include 18 former lawmakers from the party that was founded in the 1980s as a neo-Nazi organization and rose to become Greece's third largest party in parliament during the country's decade-long financial crisis.
The court has been assessing four cases rolled into one: the fatal stabbing of Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, attacks on migrant fishermen, attacks on left-wing activists and whether Golden Dawn was operating as a criminal organization.
The presiding judge of the three-member panel began reading the verdicts shortly after 11:30 a.m., delivering a guilty verdict against Giorgos Roupakias for the murder of Fyssas. That prompted 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.
Party leader Michaloliakos and 17 other former parliamentary members face at least 10 years in prison if convicted of charges of leading or participating in a criminal organization. Dozens of others on trial, party members and alleged associates, face convictions on charges that range from murder to perjury — most linked to a spate of violent attacks in 2013.
Only 11 of the 68 defendants were present in the courtroom, with the rest represented by their lawyers. None of the former Golden Dawn lawmakers were in court.
Security is tight, with around 2,000 police deployed, as well as a drone and a police helicopter. The avenue outside the Athens courthouse is closed off to traffic and the building itself blocked off by a string of police buses.
More than 10,000 people, including politicians from all political parties, gathered outside the courthouse. The crowd waved banners with slogans including "Fyssas lives, crush the Nazis," and chanted "The people demand the Nazis in jail."
Representatives of parties across the political spectrum, from the governing conservative New Democracy party to Greece's Communist Party, were outside the courthouse.
"The war against violence and hate is constant," said New Democracy's Giorgos Stergiou, noting it was under a New Democracy government that the prosecution of Golden Dawn began.
"Today the victims and society seek justice," said center-left Kinal party leader Fofi Gennimata. "We are here because there is no room for fascism in our lives."
At the crux of the case was whether the string of violent attacks could be linked to Golden Dawn's leadership and whether the party was operating as a criminal organization. The preliminary investigation indicated the party operated as a paramilitary group, with orders handed down from the party leadership to neighborhood organizations and onto assault groups which carried out attacks on migrants that often led to serious injury.
But during the course of the trial, the prosecutor recommended the acquittal of many of the party members for the criminal organization charge on the grounds of lack of evidence.
The human rights group Amnesty International, which took part in and helped organize a network to record racist violence in Greece, said Wednesday's verdict would boost the efforts of those trying to prosecute hate crimes.
"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."
Golden Dawn denies any direct link to the attacks and described the trial and charges brought against the party's leadership as an "unprecedented conspiracy" aimed at curbing its rise in popularity.
"All supporters await an acquittal tomorrow, a decision that will trigger an even more strident nationalist campaign to take our country back," it said Tuesday. [AP]