An Athens court on Wednesday issued a landmark verdict in the most significant political trial in Greece in decades, deeming that the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn operated as criminal organization under the guidance of its political leadership.
The ruling, which came five-and-a-half years after the trial against Golden Dawn began, essentially dealt the final blow to the party which failed to re-enter Parliament last year after steadily losing popularity over the years.
According to the ruling, Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos and another six former MPs including former party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris and current MEP Yiannis Lagos were guilty of leading the criminal organization.
Dozens more members of the party were also found guilty of belonging to the crime syndicate. Notably Giorgos Roupakias was convicted of the 2013 murder of leftist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, whose death led to the arrest of the party’s leadership.
Another five people were found guilty of attempted murder over assaults on three Egyptian fishermen in Nikaia, near Piraeus, in 2012, while four were found guilty of causing bodily harm in assaults on members of the country’s Communist Party trade union in Perama in 2013.
Sentencing will follow as appeals for mitigating circumstances are being lodged by defense lawyers. The former GD MPs, none of whom appeared in court on Wednesday, face prison terms of up to 15 years.
Those who were in the courtroom, including Magda Fyssa, the murdered rapper’s mother, burst into applause and cheers when the court delivered the guilty verdict.
Outside the court building, where some 20,000 protesters had gathered, a roar of approval welcomed the announcement.
Earlier, scuffles had broken out after a group of people broke off from the crowd and pelted police with firebombs. The police responded by firing tear gas and a water cannon.
The court’s decision was hailed across the political spectrum. President Katerina Sakellaropoulou spoke of “an important day for democracy.”
“Today’s decision is a confirmation of the fact that democracy and its institutions are always capable of fending off any attempt to undermine them.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis struck a similar note. “Democracy won today,” he said. “After the Greek people voted the neo-Nazi party of Golden Dawn out of Parliament in the last election, today the Greek justice system convicted its leadership of operating as a criminal organization,” he wrote on Twitter.
Former conservative premier Antonis Samaras, who was in power when GD’s leadership was arrested, also commented. “Today, democracy and our national and European values are vindicated,” he said.