UPDATED: Greece Golden Dawn leaders guilty of running crime gang

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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.

Golden Dawn entered parliament for the first time in 2012 on the back of an anti-austerity and anti-immigrant agenda, becoming Greece’s third-most popular party at the peak of its worst financial crisis since World War Two.

Clashes between riot police and protesters after the announced of the verdict of the trial of the ultra-right party Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi), in Athens , Greece. EPA-EFE/ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU

But the killing of 34-year old leftist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a party supporter in 2013 prompted a crackdown that led prosecutors to arrest and investigate Golden Dawn leaders and lawmakers over a series of crimes.

Earlier on Wednesday, the court found Golden Dawn sympathiser Yiorgos Roupakias guilty of killing Fyssas.

People gather outside Athens’ courthouse, as they wait for the verdict of the trial of the ultra-right party Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi), in Athens , Greece, 07 October 2020. . EPA-EFE/ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU

Greek police fired teargas into crowds gathered outside the courthouse after fringe elements in the crowd hurled petrol bombs at police, according to Reuters witnesses.

It was the first time that elected politicians had been jailed in Greece since a military coup in 1967. Golden Dawn failed to win a single parliamentary seat in last year’s parliamentary election that brought the conservative New Democracy party to power.

Prosecutors had charged 65 people, including 18 former Golden Dawn lawmakers with being members of a criminal group. Their trial started in April 2015. At the time, the party said it was the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt.

Dozens of others on trial, party members and alleged associates, face convictions on charges that range from murder to perjury, linked to a spate of violent attacks on immigrants and left-wing activists.

Riot policemen walk amidst tear gas during clashes with protesters after the Greek court ruled the Golden Dawn party as criminal organization, in Athens, Greece, 07 October 2020. The Athens Court of Appeals on 07 October 2020 returned a guilty verdict for the leadership of the far-right Golden Dawn party on charges of forming a criminal organisation. EPA-EFE/YANNIS KOLESIDIS

Wednesday’s verdict now sets the stage for the high-profile case to proceed with the court looking into individual charges for the murder of rapper Fyssas and other violent attacks.

Tens of thousands rallied outside the heavily policed appeals court area, holding banners reading “Fascism, Never Again” and “Freedom for the People, Death to Fascism”.

“We must send a message to the younger generations, a message against fascism,” said 69-year old Sophia. “It’s our duty to democracy to be here today, to show we are standing up against such criminal actions.”

Human rights group Amnesty International, which helped organise a network to record racist violence in Greece, said Wednesday’s verdict would boost efforts to fight 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. 

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