ATHENS – Only the hierarchy of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party convicted of running a criminal gang will be jailed after an Appeals Court on Oct. 22 said their sentences will be imposed but five others will stay free while they appeal.
A dozen former lawmakers, including party leader Nikos Michaloliakos lost their bid for leniency, and the court rejected an argument from prosecutor Adamantia Economou that all should have their sentences suspended, including dozens of members convicted of being in the criminal gang.
One member, Giorgos Roupakias, who was convicted of the killing of anti-Fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas in 2013, was sentenced to life and the court had rejected any mitigating circumstances and pleas for a lesser sentence.
Those ordered imprisoned Thursday include former party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who has since left Golden Dawn and founded his own political party, and current European Parliament member Ioannis Lagos, who also left Golden Dawn and currently lives in Brussels.
Michaloliakos' wife, Eleni Zaroulia, was among the five whose sentences was suspended with four others having broken ties with the party, the court finding that grounds for leniency although they were convicted of lesser charges.
The decision by a three-judge panel came after days of summations by defense lawyers and insistence by Economou that those convicted should not go to jail while they appeal, which could take several years after the trial lasted five.
Presiding judge Maria Lepenioti consults a fellow judge as she reads the sentences during the Golden Dawn trial, in Athens, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Michaloliakos and another five former lawmakers received 13-year prison sentences, while a sixth was sentenced to 10 years.
“I am proud to be going to jail for my ideas. Some people at some time will be ashamed for taking this decision,” Michaloliakos told reporters outside his Athens home after the court decision was announced. “We will be vindicated by history and by the Greek people.”
Fyssas's mother Magda Fyssa, who became an emblematic figure in the fight against Golden Dawn and attended all hearings over the past five years, was in court for the trial's conclusion.
“I don't think Pavlos is vindicated. I think the vindication is for us, for these people who fight to prove that (Golden Dawn) truly is a criminal organization in the guise of a political party,” she said.
Lawyers representing the victims expressed satisfaction with Thursday’s decision.
FILE – In this Thursday, May 17, 2012 file photo, members of parliament from the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party are seated before a swearing in ceremony at the Greek parliament in Athens. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, File)
“Today is a day of victory and a day of justice. It is a day on which we might be crying, but we are crying with joy,” said Thanasis Kampagiannis, who represented the Egyptian fishermen. “The hundreds of migrants who were beaten, stabbed or even murdered by the Nazi organization are vindicated.”
The defendants were not obliged to be in court for the hearing. Arrest orders will be issued for any of those ordered imprisoned who do not turn themselves in voluntarily.
One of the former lawmakers, Giorgos Germenis, proclaimed his innocence as he went to surrender to authorities. “This is a political prosecution,” he said, adding he had hope in the appeals process.
The decision ends a politically-charged trial involving 68 defendants, dozens of lawyers and encompassing four cases, including the killing of Fyssas and attacks on Egyptian fishermen and left-wing activists.
The Golden Dawn lawmakers spent 18 months in jail when the trial first began, and were released due to the limit of pre-trial detention being reached. Some 57 members and associates were convicted on Oct. 7, mostly for involvement in violent attacks and participating in a criminal organization.
Golden Dawn was founded as a neo-Nazi group in the 1980's and spent decades as a fringe party on the Greek political scene but rose during the country’s 2010-2018 financial crisis, winning Parliament seats in four separate elections and becoming Greece’s third-largest political party.
But it began to unravel after the killing of Fyssas that galvanized opinion against the neo-Nazis who were narrowly ousted in July 7, 2019 snap elections that saw the New Democracy Conservatives unseat the Radical Left SYRIZA.
Economou had argued there wasn't enough proof for their conviction despite thousands of pages of evidence and eyewitness testimony in a number of cases, and she said the convicts deserved leniency because they didn't have prior records.
Magda Fyssa, center, the mother of late Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, who was stabbed and killed by a supporter of the extreme right Golden Dawn party in 2013 triggering a crackdown on the party, is comforted after she overcame with emotion, at a court in Athens, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Judge Maria Lepeniotou pointed out they did, leading the prosecutor to say the crimes were old and that there was no chance of further offenses without offering any evidence why not given some were violent.
In Greece, a prosecutor doesn't bring cases for the state but is a neutral arbiter who hears both sides and makes a recommendation and leaves it up to judges to decide on rulings.
Kasidiaris alleged ‘“illegal government interventions” and claimed that Dimitris Vartzopoulos, an aide to former Premier Antonis Samaras, had telephoned someone close to Roupakias days before the killing but the court rejected that argument as not relevant.
The convicts had pleaded for mercy after being convicted, turning away from their former belligerence into trying to get lesser sentences with a number of arguments, including from one that he had married the same woman twice.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)