The leader of Greece’s extreme-right nationalist Golden Dawn party arrived at an Athens courthouse handcuffed and flanked by anti-terrorist policemen donned in black and wearing balaclavas, as hundreds of his party’s supporters chanted, “Blood, Honour, Golden Dawn!”
Nikos Mihaloliakos, facing charges of founding a criminal organisation, presented his defence amid claims that the party was linked to more than 30 offences. Like several other party members who are facing similar accusations, he is expected to argue he’s a victim of political persecution.
The assassination of the rapper Pavlos Fyssas, who was stabbed to death two weeks ago in a suburb of Athens by a self-professed party backer, was included in the string of charges levelled at Golden Dawn.
The killing prompted a huge backlash in public opinion as evidence piled up implicating the party. After being probed by an investigating judge for 18 hours on Tuesday, three out of four arrested Golden Dawn lawmakers were released, raising questions over the strength of the prosecution’s case.
Ilias Kasidiaris, the party’s spokesman, was released on a €50,000 bail and, like his colleagues, he cannot leave the country. After he walked out of the courthouse, the politician deliberately knocked the camera off the shoulder of a journalist, pushed a photographer and threatened the media.
Reacting to the news of their release, Interior Minister Giannis Mihelakis reminded Greeks that proceedings were on-going and the release did not necessarily equate to an acquittal. “There are prosecutions and charges for felonies – we should not forget that,” Mr Mihelakis told Greek television.
Kostas Daltas, a criminal lawyer, who has been closely following the case, said that while the release of the accused MPs is attributed to their political status, it could also be evidence of weak prosecution. “Generally, the stronger the evidence, the higher the chances of jail… but it is still premature to draw any conclusions on the case.” He said the judge’s decision on Mr Mihaloliakos will be pivotal in determining the strength of the prosecution case.
Artemis Matthaiopoulos, a Golden Dawn MP told The Independent that the entire case was “baseless and built on rumours” and echoing the party line, said that Golden Dawn was being politically persecuted because of its recent increased popularity. Riding a wave of discontent over the country’s financial crisis, which in turn has led to a rise in anti-immigrant feeling, political commentators widely suggest that the party is now the third strongest in Greece.
But since the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, polls suggested that an overwhelming number of Greeks do not consider Golden Dawn a democratic party – a poll published a week ago showed that support had dropped from 10.8 per cent in June, to less than 7 per cent.
The confidence of Greeks in the mainstream parties has been seriously eroded since the onset of the financial crisis, and many remain dubious that the newly-popular Golden Dawn could be responsible for the murder.
Nikos, a father of two and taxi driver who works for 12-hours a day to pay his mortgage and family expenses, said case is a distraction from the real problems that his country faces.
“People are confused – we don’t know who to believe anymore… but I think this case is mainly backed by political motives.”