ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A Greek court on Thursday adjourned the sentencing procedure for 18 former lawmakers of the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party and others convicted in the case, a day after the three-member panel of judges delivered a landmark verdict deeming the party a criminal organization.
The court hearing will resume Friday morning with summations by the lawyers representing the former lawmakers, including the party’s leader, with arguments on mitigating circumstances for more lenient sentences to be imposed.
Wednesday’s verdict was the culmination of a five-year, politically charged trial that involved 68 defendants — party officials, members, and alleged supporters — more than 200 witnesses and over 60 lawyers. About 20,000 people held an anti-fascist rally outside the courthouse for the verdict, and thousands more held a similar rally in the northern city of Thessaloniki.
Golden Dawn, founded as a neo-Nazi group in the 1980s, rose to prominence during Greece’s brutal near decade-long financial crisis that began in 2009, and became the country’s third largest party. Considered a model for many extreme-right groups in Europe and beyond, it held parliamentary seats from 2012 until 2019, when its popularity plummeted in national elections.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas described the court decision as being of “historic importance,” and added: “What is important is that democracy prevailed.”
Sparked by the 2013 fatal stabbing of left-wing Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, the trial wrapped four cases into one: Fyssas’ killing; physical attacks against Egyptian fishermen in 2012 and on left-wing activists in 2013; and whether Golden Dawn was operating as a criminal organization.
The court ruled that of the 18 former party lawmakers on trial, seven, including party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were guilty of leading a criminal organization. They face between five and 15 years in prison. The other 11 were deemed guilty of participating in a criminal organization, a charge that carries a potential sentence of five to 10 years.
Giorgos Roupakias, accused of being a party supporter who delivered the fatal stab wounds to Fyssas, was found guilty of murder, possession and use of a weapon, and faces a potential life sentence. Fifteen others — none of them former lawmakers — were convicted as accomplices.
Reacting to the verdict Thursday, Michaloliakos tweeted that “they convicted us for our ideas.”
“When the illegal immigrants are the majority in Greece, when they surrender land and sea to Turkey, when millions of Greeks are unemployed in the streets, then they’ll remember Golden Dawn,” he said in a tweet also posted on the party’s website.
During Thursday’s sentencing hearing, prosecutor Adamantia Economou argued that mitigating circumstances could be recognized for those found guilty of membership of a criminal organization but not for other crimes.
The defendants are not required to be present in court for the verdict or sentencing. None of the 18 former lawmakers, who had all served the maximum 18 months in pre-trial detention at the start of the trial, were in court Wednesday.
If the judges impose sentences that are not suspended or not delayed pending appeal, then orders for the arrest of those sentenced would be issued. Those convicted can also turn themselves in at a police station.
One of the former lawmakers, Ioannis Lagos, is now a member of the European Parliament and lives in Brussels. As such, he enjoys immunity which could require a long process to be lifted.
In an online video post from the European Parliament, Lagos vowed to fight a legal battle to demonstrate that the trial of Golden Dawn members had been unfair, describing it as politically motivated. But he added that he was willing to give himself up voluntarily if requested.
Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece, and Lorne Cook in Brussels, contributed to this report.