Leaders of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn, the country's third most popular party in parliament during the debt crisis, were guilty of running a criminal group, a Greek appeals court ruled on Wednesday.
The court found that seven former Golden Dawn MPs, including its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, were guilty of leading a criminal organisation, while the others were found guilty of participation in one.
Earlier, the court found Golden Dawn sympathiser Yiorgos Roupakias guilty of killing 34-year old anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013.
Roupakias confessed to the stabbing, which triggered Golden Dawn’s demise as public outrage reached a tipping point and prompted a crackdown against the party.
More than 15,000 people gathered for an anti-fascist rally outside the Athens courthouse on Wednesday. Applause broke out inside and outside the courtroom as Roupakias, who was found to have delivered the final stab wounds, was found guilty.
Some 2,000 police officers have been brought into the city over fears that violence would break out between anti-fascists and Golden Dawn supporters.
Riot police fired teargas into the crowds as people chanted anti-fascist slogans, with observers from Amnesty International describing police use of the chemical weapon as “indiscriminate".
Nils Muiznieks, Amnesty International’s Europe director, said the ruling sends a message that violence and hate crimes will not go unpunished.
“Today’s landmark ruling is a recognition of the systemic threat posed to our societies by a violent, racist group and a commitment that this threat must not be allowed to continue.”
Mr Muiznieks added: “This verdict is the first step to deliver justice for the victims of hate crimes and discriminatory attacks, and must serve as a stark reminder of the dangers of demonising and scapegoating entire populations.”
The director said he hopes the judgment will mark “a turning point” to deter future racist violence and hate crimes.
The trial, which has stretched on for five and a half years, is the biggest trial of neo-fascists since the prosecution of Nazis at Nuremberg. It saw 68 people, including the party’s entire leadership, face multiple charges as the court assessed allegations including attacks on communist trade unionists and the attempted murder of Abouzid Embarak, an Egyptian fisherman, as well as the murder of Fyssas and the broader accusation of the party being a criminal organisation.
The leaders who have been charged with controlling the criminal organisation could face up to 15 years in prison.
The 62-year-old Michaloliakos, who is a Holocaust denier, claims the party has been the victim of political persecution. His political origins can be traced back to Greece’s 1967-74 military dictatorship.
Manos Moschopoulos, senior programme officer with Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE), hailed the verdict as “historic” and cautioned against any complacency against fascism.
He said: “For all of us Greeks, this is a historic day. For those of us at the receiving end of their death threats: a victory. For the loved ones of those murdered in the name of their sick ideology: justice.
“Today’s verdict should be a rallying cry for everyone who believes in democracy and human dignity, to stand up against the politics of hate that poison our societies and threaten our lives. We cannot afford to let down our guard while we celebrate this historic moment.”
At Golden Dawn’s peak following the May 2012 election, it won more than 7 per cent of the vote and had 21 lawmakers in Greece’s parliament. However, its presence in parliament was wiped out in the July 2019 elections.
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