ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A Greek court is expected Thursday to sentence the 18 former lawmakers of the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party, including its leader, a day after the three-member panel of judges delivered a landmark verdict deeming the party a criminal organization.
Wednesday’s verdict was the culmination of a five-year, politically charged trial that involved 68 defendants — party officials, members, and alleged supporters — more than 200 witnesses and over 60 lawyers. About 20,000 people held an anti-fascist rally outside the courthouse, and thousands more held a similar rally in the northern city of Thessaloniki.
Golden Dawn, founded as a neo-Nazi group in the 1980s, rose to prominence during Greece’s brutal near decade-long financial crisis that began in 2009, and become the country’s third largest party. It was often considered a model for many extreme-right groups in Europe and beyond, and held parliamentary seats from 2012 until 2019, when its popularity plummeted in national elections.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas described the court decision as being of “historic importance,” and added: “What is important is that democracy prevailed.”
Sparked by the 2013 fatal stabbing of left-wing Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, the trial wrapped four cases into one: Fyssas’ killing; physical attacks against Egyptian fishermen in 2012 and on left-wing activists in 2013; and whether Golden Dawn was operating as a criminal organization.
The court ruled that of the 18 former party lawmakers on trial, seven, including party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were guilty of leading a criminal organization and face between five and 15 years in prison. The other 11 were deemed guilty of participating in a criminal organization, a charge that carries a potential sentence of five to 10 years.
Giorgos Roupakias, accused of being a party supporter who delivered the fatal stab wounds to Fyssas, was found guilty of murder, and possession and use of a weapon, and faces a potential life sentence. Fifteen others — none of them former lawmakers — were convicted as accomplices.
Reacting to the verdict Thursday, Michaloliakos tweeted that “they convicted us for our ideas.”
“When the illegal immigrants are the majority in Greece, when they surrender land and sea to Turkey, when millions of Greeks are unemployed in the streets, then they’ll remember Golden Dawn,” he said in a tweet also posted on the party’s website.
The lengthy sentencing procedure, where defense lawyers make summations laying out reasons for leniency, began immediately after the verdicts were announced Wednesday and went late into the night. The procedure began again shortly after noon Thursday and was likely to extend into the night.
Prosecutor Adamantia Economou argued that mitigating circumstances could be recognized for those found guilty of membership of a criminal organization but not for other crimes.
The defendants are not required to be present in court for the verdict or sentencing and can be represented by their lawyers. None of the 18 former lawmakers, who had all served the maximum 18 months in pre-trial detention at the start of the trial, was in court Wednesday.
If the judges impose sentences that are not suspended or not delayed pending appeal, then orders for the arrest of those sentenced would be issued. Those convicted can also turn themselves in at a police station.
There’s a complication concerning one of the 18 former party lawmakers, Ioannis Lagos, who is now a member of the European Parliament. As such, he enjoys immunity, whose lifting requires a long process.
First Greece must officially request the lifting of his immunity. Lagos himself can also bring the issue to parliament by requesting its protection. The demand would have to be notified to the lawmakers, being read out in a plenary session — which happens once or twice a month.
All this would take several weeks, and only after that would the matter of his potential extradition be entered.
Around 60 such demands were made to the European Parliament during the 2014-2019 term.
Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece, and Lorne Cook in Brussels, contributed to this report.