Greek court rules that Golden Dawn party is a criminal group

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - A Greek court ruled on Wednesday that the far-right Golden Dawn party acts as a criminal organization and pronounces seminal guilty verdicts on dozens of defendants following a politically indicted five-year trial.
Golden Dawn, founded in the 1980s as a neo-Nazi group, rose to become the third largest party in Greece during the country's recent financial crisis and was seen as a role model for many right-wing groups around the world.
The court ruled that seven of the 18 former party legislators, including party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were guilty of leading a criminal organization. The rest were found guilty of participating in a criminal organization. A total of 68 defendants were in a trial that comprised four cases.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the ruling "ended a traumatic cycle" in the country's public life.
"(It's) a truly historic day for Greece, democracy and the rule of law," he tweeted after a televised address. "After the Greek people voted the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn out of parliament in the last election, the Greek judicial system today condemned its leadership as a criminal organization."
When the news of the convictions became known, cheers and celebrations broke out among at least 20,000 people at an anti-fascist rally in front of the Athens courthouse. Some protesters threw gasoline bombs and stones at the police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons.
In the marathon process, four cases were combined into one: the fatal stabbing of the Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas in 2013, physical attacks on Egyptian fishermen in 2012 and left activists in 2013, and the question of whether Golden Dawn was a criminal organization was active.
The three-person jury also found Giorgos Roupakias guilty of murdering Fyssas, which sparked applause in the courtroom and the crowd outside. Roupakias had been accused of supporting the party who delivered the fatal stab wounds to Fyssas. Another 15 defendants - none of them former lawmakers - were convicted of accomplices, and two were acquitted.
Fyssas' mother Magda Fyssa, who had attended almost every court session for the past five years, walked out of the courthouse, raised her arms and shouted, “Pavlos did it. My son!"
All five people charged with attempted murder of the fishermen were also found guilty, while the four people charged with attempted murder in the attacks on leftist activists were found guilty of lesser charges of assault.
Only 11 of the 68 defendants were present, the rest were represented by their lawyers. None of the former Golden Dawn lawmakers have been on trial.
"The verdict shows that it was just a gang of knife-wielding thugs taking their orders from above," said Thanassis Kambayiannis, an attorney who represents the fishermen.
Following the verdicts, defense attorneys began summing up before sentencing, a process that could take several days. Persons convicted of running a criminal organization face a prison sentence of up to 15 years and persons convicted of participation face a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Roupakias faces life imprisonment.
"Today's landmark decision against Golden Dawn sends a clear and unequivocal message that hate crimes will no longer be tolerated," Human Rights Watch's Eva Cosse told The Associated Press. "Victims, survivors, their families and society at large have finally seen justice."
Security in the courthouse was strict. Around 2,000 police officers, drones and a police helicopter were in action.
Outside the courthouse, protester George Kounanis, who works as an activist for equal opportunities for LGBT workers, said he was relieved by the verdict.
“We have lived under the threat they pose for years. You have beaten, threatened and verbally abused same-sex couples. They hate everything that is not Greek and macho, "he said." But we never crouched and we never stopped speaking out against them. So it feels like a justification. Lots of people supported them, so we can't be complacent. "
Politicians from across the political spectrum, from the ruling Conservative New Democracy Party to the Communist Party of Greece and the former ruling left-wing Syriza party, stood outside the courthouse.
The focus of the case was the question of whether the series of violent attacks could be linked to the leadership of Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn denied any direct connection to the attacks, describing the trial and indictment against the party leadership as an "unprecedented conspiracy" to contain their surge in popularity.
The party elected members to the Greek parliament in four separate elections and remained present between 2012 and 2019. While distancing herself from her neo-Nazi origins, she maintained links with far-right and white supremacist groups in Europe and the US Congress called the judgment a "welcome and important decision" while Amnesty International's Europe director Nils Muiznieks argued that the ruling would have repercussions across the continent. "Golden Dawn's activities have exposed a rift that exists not just within Greek society, but across Europe and beyond," he said. "Today's landmark decision is a recognition of the systemic threat that a violent, racist group poses to our societies and a commitment that that threat does not continue."
____ ____
Fanis Karabatsakis in Athens and Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki contributed to this report. ___ Follow Derek Gatopoulos at https://twitter.com/dgatopoulos and Elena Becatoros at https://twitter.com/ElenaBec
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