A Greek court has ruled that a right-wing Golden Dawn party is operating as a criminal organization, delivering a landmark ruling in a marathon five-year trial.
Seven of the party’s 18 former legislators, including party leader Nicos Micheloliakos, were convicted of leading a criminal organization, while others were convicted of participating in a criminal organization.
As news of the convictions broke, chaos and celebrations erupted in a crowd of more than 15,000 who had gathered at an anti-fascist rally outside the Athens court.
A small group of people threw molodovs and stones into the crowd, and police responded with tear gas and water cannon.
The marathon trial has rated one of four cases: the 2013 murder of Greek rapper Pavlos Fiza, the physical assaults on Egyptian fishermen in 2012 and left-wing activists in 2013, and whether Golden Dawn acts as a criminal organization.
The 68 defendants include 18 former legislators from the party that was founded as a new Nazi organization in the 1980s, rising to become Greece’s third largest party in parliament during the country’s decade-long financial crisis.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the ruling “ends a traumatic cycle” in the country’s public life.
“Its political dimension, fortunately, was determined by the victory of democracy, which ousted the Nazi organization from parliament (in elections),” he said. “Now, the independent judiciary is giving its own answer.”
A three-member panel of judges convicted Giorgos Rubakias of murdering Fizas, prompting applause from the crowd inside and outside the courtroom.
Rubakias was accused of being a party supporter who inflicted dangerous stab wounds on Fizas. A further 15 defendants – none of them former legislators – were convicted as accomplices in Fizas’ murder.
Outside the courtroom, Magda Fiza, Fiza’s mother, who has attended almost every court session in the last five years, raised her hands and shouted: “Paul did it. My son! ”
Five of those charged with attempted murder against expatriate fishermen were convicted, while four of those charged with attempted murder in attacks against left-wing activists were charged with causing minor harm.
Of the 68 defendants, only 11 appeared in court, and the rest were represented by their attorneys. None of the former Golden Dawn legislators are in court.
After the verdicts were read, the defense attorneys began summarizing the sentence, which lasted several days.
Offenders who run one criminal organization face up to 15 years in prison and others face up to 10 years in prison. Rubakias faces life sentence.
“Today marks the greatest victory for justice and respect for Greece and the rest of the world,” Eva Goss, a Greek researcher at Human Rights Watch, told the Associated Press.
“It sends a strong message that hate crimes should not be tolerated in a democratic society.”
Security at the court was tight, with about 2,000 police, drones and a police helicopter parked.
Avenue outside the Athens court was closed to traffic and the building was blocked by police buses.
Crowds at the anti-fascist rally waved banners with slogans including “Fijian life, oppresses Nazis” and chanted “People demand Nazis in prison”.
More than 5,000 held a similar rally in the northern city of Thessaloniki.
Politicians from across the political spectrum, from the ruling Conservative New Democracy to the Greek Communist Party and the former ruling left-wing SYRIZA party, attended.
The key point of the case is whether the string of violent attacks can be linked to the leadership of Golden Tone. During the trial, the public prosecutor recommended the release of several party members for lack of evidence.
Golden Dawn denied any direct involvement in the attacks, describing the lawsuit and allegations against the party leadership as an “unprecedented conspiracy” aimed at preventing its “popularity”.