A Greek court is to deliver a landmark verdict in the marathon, five-year-long trial against the country's extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party Wednesday, with security tight and more than 10,000 people gathering in an anti-fascist rally outside.
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.
Party leader Nikos 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.
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 coalition leader Fofi Gennimata. "We are here because there is no room for fascism in our lives."
At the crux of the case is whether the string of violent attacks can 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]