A Greek court has found the leaders of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn political party guilty of running a criminal organisation whose supporters carried out a spate of violent attacks against leftwing activists and migrant workers in Athens at the height of the country’s economic crisis.
A crowd of several thousand outside the Athens appeal court cheered as the verdict was announced on Wednesday and shouted “Fascism will not pass”. Police fired tear gas at a group throwing petrol bombs on the fringes of the gathering.
Nikos Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn’s founder, and six other former MPs deemed its leaders face jail terms of up to 15 years, a court official said. Its remaining 11 former deputies were convicted of being members of a criminal organisation.
All denied the charges, claiming they were victims of a political witch-hunt. None were in court for the final session of a trial with 68 defendants that lasted five-and-a-half years because of frequent interruptions on procedural grounds. Sentencing is expected by the weekend.
The three-member court also convicted Giorgos Roupakias, a Golden Dawn supporter, of murdering a popular leftwing rapper in a street brawl in 2013.
The killing of Pavlos Fyssas, known as Killah P, prompted the first full-fledged police investigation into Golden Dawn’s activities. The third-largest group in parliament at the time, it fended off scrutiny by claiming it represented a broad-based “patriotic front” but did not endorse violence.
Greek politicians from all parties welcomed the verdict. The prosecutor in the case had earlier asked for dozens of acquittals on grounds of insufficient evidence.
“The impact of this verdict, in what is an emblematic trial of a far-right party with an aggressive anti-migrant and anti-human rights stand will be felt far beyond Greece’s borders,” said Nils Muiznieks, Europe director at Amnesty International.
Other Golden Dawn members and supporters were found guilty of attempted murder for their role in violent attacks in 2012-2013 against several Egyptians working on a Greek fishing vessel, and members of PAME, a leftwing trade union.
Golden Dawn emerged as an alternative to traditional rightwing parties as Greece’s economic problems worsened, with unemployment reaching around 28 per cent in 2012. The party’s social welfare branch made regular distributions of food and offered free medical consultations while specifying these were “only for Greek citizens”.
But its torchlit rallies attended by black-clad cadres shouting nationalist slogans together with Mr Michaloliakos’s speeches praising far-right populism across Europe and earlier articles praising Hitler, left no doubt about Golden Dawn’s political agenda.
While the party has not been formally banned, it polled below the 3 per cent threshold for entering parliament at last year’s general election and its network of local offices has shut down.