Former lawmakers of Greece's extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party began turning themselves in to authorities Thursday, after a court ordered their imprisonment following their convictions for running the party like a criminal organization.
In the final act of a marathon five-year, politically charged trial, the three-judge panel ordered a total of 39 people, including 13 former lawmakers, jailed, rejecting appeals for suspended sentences.
It ruled 12 others, including five former lawmakers, would remain free pending their appeals.
Thursday's decision came after two weeks of summations by defense lawyers following the prosecutor's recommendation that all former Golden Dawn lawmakers be allowed to remain free pending appeal. The appeals process could take several years.
Those surrendering to authorities Thursday included party leader Nikos Michaloliakos and other former lawmakers who were convicted of leading a criminal organization. Michaloliakos and another five former lawmakers received 13-year prison sentences, while a sixth was sentenced to 10 years.
The party, founded as a neo-Nazi group in the 1980s, remained a fringe group for decades before rising to prominence during the country's 2010-2018 financial crisis, winning parliament seats in four separate elections and becoming Greece's third-largest political party. It has been blamed for multiple hate crimes, including brutal street attacks on immigrants and left-wing activists.
Its popularity waned during the trial, and it failed to win any parliament seats in the 2019 elections.
Eleven former Golden Dawn lawmakers convicted of simple participation received sentences of between five and seven years. Michaloliakos' wife, Eleni Zaroulia, was among the five of those who received conditional suspended sentences.
Bail conditions include bans on leaving the country, payment of 20,000 euros ($23,700) each and appearing at their local police station twice a month.
"I am proud to be going to jail for my ideas. Some people at some time will be ashamed for taking this decision," Michaloliakos told reporters outside his Athens home after the court decision was announced. "We will be vindicated by history and by the Greek people."
The trial involved 68 defendants, dozens of lawyers and encompassed four cases, including the 2013 fatal stabbing of left-wing Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas and physical attacks on Egyptian fishermen and left-wing activists.
Fyssas's killer, Giorgos Roupakias, was also ordered to begin serving his life sentence.
Fyssas's mother Magda Fyssa, who became an emblematic figure in the fight against Golden Dawn and attended all hearings over the past five years, was in court for the trial's conclusion.
"I don't think Pavlos is vindicated. I think the vindication is for us, for these people who fight to prove that [Golden Dawn] truly is a criminal organization in the guise of a political party," she said.
Lawyers representing the victims expressed satisfaction with Thursday's decision.
"Today is a day of victory and a day of justice. It is a day on which we might be crying, but we are crying with joy," said Thanasis Kampagiannis, who represented the Egyptian fishermen. "The hundreds of migrants who were beaten, stabbed or even murdered by the Nazi organization are vindicated."
A total of 57 party members and associates were convicted on Oct. 7, mostly for involvement in violent attacks and participating in a criminal organization.
Those ordered imprisoned Thursday include former party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who has since left Golden Dawn and founded his own political party, and current European Parliament member Ioannis Lagos, who also left Golden Dawn and currently lives in Brussels.
The defendants were not obliged to be in court for the hearing. Arrest orders will be issued for any of those ordered imprisoned who do not turn themselves in voluntarily.
One of the former lawmakers, Giorgos Germenis, proclaimed his innocence as he went to surrender to authorities. "This is a political prosecution," he said, adding he had hope in the appeals process.