October 20th, 2020

Greek court to deliver landmark verdict in far-right trial

By Derek Gatopoulos And Elena Becatoros, The Associated Press on October 7, 2020.

FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019 file photo, supporters of Greece's extreme right Golden Dawn raise torches during a rally commemorating a 1996 military incident which cost the lives of three Greek navy officers and brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war, in Athens. Greek police officials they are planning to deploy about 2,000 officers around Athens as the leadership of the extreme right group Golden Dawn faces a landmark criminal trial verdict. Eighteen former lawmakers from the party founded in the 1980s as a neo-Nazi organization are among 69 defendants who have been on trial for the past five years. The verdict is expected Wednesday Oct. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis, File)

ATHENS, Greece – A Greek court is to deliver a landmark verdict in the marathon, five-year-long trial against the country’s extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party Wednesday, with security tight and anti-fascist rallies planned outside.

The 68 defendants in the trial include 18 former lawmakers from the party that was founded in the 1980s as a neo-Nazi organization and rose to become Greece’s third largest party in parliament during the country’s decade-long financial crisis.

The court has been assessing four cases: the fatal stabbing of Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, attacks on migrant fishermen, attacks on left-wing activists and whether Golden Dawn was operating as a criminal organization.

Party leader Nikos Michaloliakos and 17 other former parliamentary members face at least 10 years in prison if convicted of charges of leading or participating in a criminal organization. Dozens of others on trial, party members and alleged associates, face convictions on charges that range from murder to perjury – most linked to a spate of violent attacks in 2013.

Security is tight, with around 2,000 police deployed, as well as a drone and a police helicopter. The avenue outside the Athens courthouse is closed off to traffic and the building itself blocked off by a string of police buses. Thousands are expected to participate in anti-fascist rallies nearby.

At the crux of the case is whether the string of violent attacks can be linked to Golden Dawn’s leadership and whether the party was operating as a criminal organization. The preliminary investigation indicated the party operated as a paramilitary group, with orders handed down from the party leadership to neighbourhood organizations and onto assault groups which carried out attacks on migrants that often led to serious injury.

But during the course of the trial, the prosecutor recommended the acquittal of many of the party members for the criminal organization charge on the grounds of lack of evidence.

The human rights group Amnesty International, which took part in and helped organize a network to record racist violence in Greece, said Wednesday’s verdict would boost the efforts of those trying to prosecute hate crimes.

“The accusations against the leaders and members of Golden Dawn, including the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, expose a fissure that exists not just within Greece but across Europe and beyond,” said Nils Muiznieks, Europe director at Amnesty. “The impact of this verdict, in what is an emblematic trial of an extreme far-right party with an aggressive anti-migrant and anti-human rights stance, will be felt far beyond Greece’s borders.”

Golden Dawn denies any direct link to the attacks and described the trial and charges brought against the party’s leadership as an “unprecedented conspiracy” aimed at curbing its rise in popularity.

“All supporters await an acquittal tomorrow, a decision that will trigger an even more strident nationalist campaign to take our country back,” it said Tuesday.

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