Greek Judges Say Blameless for Golden Dawn Trial Delays

(Photo by Eurokinissi/Tatiana Bollari, FILE)

ATHENS – Greek judges said they’re not the reason why the trial of the 15 Members of Parliament of the ultra-extremist right Golden Dawn and 68 members on charges of running a criminal gang is in its fourth year and could last for years more.

The Greek Union of Judges and Prosecutors rejected criticisms the court system is to blame for delays in the ongoing trial even though it takes a decade or more to get cases heard in the courts of the extreme-right Golden Dawn party.

The union said there’s a shortage of space. The court meets 10 times a month because there is no special room to conduct the procedure on a more regular basis,” it said.

The union said that since the trial began some 283 court sessions have been held and 150 witnesses have been examined although the defendants, including one charged with murder and released after a maximum 18-month pre-trial detention rarely show up and aren’t compelled.

The trial began on April 15, 2015, three months after Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras took power but the defendants refuse to show up and aren’t being forced to attend infrequent sessions.

A dozen prosecution lawyers now have filed a petition requesting that the court expedite the process but cases in Greece can take years, even decades to be finished and there’s little incentive for anyone to show up.

The lawyers requested that more judges be assigned the case and for daily sessions. Thanasis Kampagiannis, a prosecution lawyer, explained that there are currently eight to 10 sessions a month.

“We are asking for it to speed up because, in the phase we’re now in, lawyers for Golden Dawn are stalling the process by asking for lots of papers and documents from the parliament,” he told Al Jazeera.

Membership in a criminal organization carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years. But for some defendants accused of murder and conspiracy to murder, the sentences could be steeper, if convicted. The party could also lose its parliamentary seats.

The number of files meant to be examined throughout the course of the proceedings number around 30,000, while both the prosecution and the defense have hundreds of witnesses. The breadth of evidence, coupled with procedural delays and occasional public sector strikes, has drawn out the case.

The court has held more than 250 sessions and heard from nearly 250 prosecution witnesses. With an estimated 230 defense witnesses yet to take the stand, Kathimerini predicts that the trial could stretch into 2020.

Golden Dawn Watch, a web site devoted to tracking the misdoings and alleged criminal activities of a group who former members said is based on a Nazi ideology and command structure, with the intent of overthrowing the government in favor of a single-party dictatorship, has been keeping tabs even though the often-delayed trial has been out of the public eye despite the party’s long history of charged anti-Semitism, attacks against refugees and critics and the government even while it has 18 seats in Parliament.

“It’s very important not just for the media but for historians it’s the biggest Nazi trial,” perhaps since World War II, Kostis Papaioannou, former Chairman of Amnesty International’s Greek office and General Secretary for Transparency and Human Rights for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) told The National Herald.

With long interludes between the court meeting – and with the defendants, including Giorgos Roupakias, charged with murdering anti-Fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas four years ago released after being held for a maximum 18 months in pre-trial detention, the case is finally beginning to unwind more in court.

That includes the recent testimony of a lawyer who quit the party in 2013 and who told the court that it “had as its aim the installation of a one-party state and the abolition of any form of parliamentary procedures,” according to Kathimerini.

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