ATHENS – With a heavy police presence and more than 15,000 outside an Athens court on Oct. 7, a guilty verdict was delivered in the case of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn for operating a criminal gang and one of its members for the murder of anti-Fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas.
The finding was that some of the party's former lawmakers only participated in criminal acts while others, including party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were guilty of leading them and operating to get targets tht included migrants and leftists.
Five defendants were found guilty for an attack on Egyptian fishermen while all four defendants were found guilty for an attack on PAME unionists.
That came after a five-year long trial in which many of the defendants refused to show up in court and were not compelled to attend, the scene tense outside the court where critics of the party and supporters of Fyssas' family urged a huge turnout.
One of the party's members, Giorgos Roupakias, was found guilty in the stabbing murder of Fyssas in a Piraeus neighborhood in 2013.
Roupakias had been released from pre-trial detention and was under house arrest during the trial that saw Fyssas' mother tearfully testify and demand justice for her son who was attacked near a tavern where he went with his girlfriend and friends.
It was that killing that set off an intense investigation into Golden Dawn and its hierarchy, which was then in Parliament before being narrowly ousted in July 7, 2019 elections by only a small margin.
The 68 defendants in the trial include 18 former lawmakers from the party that was founded in the 1980s as a neo-Nazi organization and rose to become Greece's third largest party in parliament during the country's decade-long financial crisis.
The court has been assessing four cases rolled into one: the fatal stabbing of Fyssas, attacks on migrant fishermen, attacks on left-wing activists and whether Golden Dawn was operating as a criminal organization.
Michaloliakos and 17 other former parliamentary members face at least 10 years in prison. Dozens of others on trial, party members and alleged associates were charged over a serious of violent attacks in 2013.
Security was tight, with around 2,000 police deployed, as well as a drone and a police helicopter. The avenue outside the Athens courthouse was closed off to traffic and the building blocked off by a string of police buses.
The masses outside included politicians from all political parties, gathered outside the courthouse. The crowd waved banners with slogans including "Fyssas lives, crush the Nazis," and chanted "The people demand the Nazis in jail."
Representatives of parties across the political spectrum, from the governing conservative New Democracy party to Greece's Communist Party, were outside the courthouse and the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA called for a huge turnout.
"The war against violence and hate is constant," said New Democracy's Giorgos Stergiou, noting it was under a New Democracy government that the prosecution of Golden Dawn began, not SYRIZA.
"Today the victims and society seek justice," said center-left KINAL coalition leader Fofi Gennimata. "We are here because there is no room for fascism in our lives."
The investigation indicated the party operated as a paramilitary group, with orders handed down from the party leadership to neighborhood organizations and onto assault groups which carried out attacks on migrants that often led to serious injury.
But during the course of the trial, the prosecutor recommended the acquittal of many of the party members for the criminal organization charge on the grounds of lack of evidence at the same time the prosecution delivered thousands of pages of proof over the criminal activities.
The human rights group Amnesty International, which took part in and helped organize a network to record racist violence in Greece, said the verdict would boost the efforts of those trying to prosecute 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.
"The impact of this verdict, in what is an emblematic trial of an extreme far-right party with an aggressive anti-migrant and anti-human rights stance, will be felt far beyond Greece's borders."
Golden Dawn denied any direct link to the attacks and described the trial and charges brought against the party's leadership as an "unprecedented conspiracy" aimed at curbing its rise in popularity.
"All supporters await an acquittal tomorrow, a decision that will trigger an even more strident nationalist campaign to take our country back," it said before the guilty verdict crushed them all, likely for good.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)