Leaders of Greece's Golden Dawn Sentenced to Prison

ATHENS — An Athens court sentenced the leaders of Greece’s Golden Dawn party to 13 years in prison on Wednesday, a week after declaring ...


ATHENS — An Athens court sentenced the leaders of Greece’s Golden Dawn party to 13 years in prison on Wednesday, a week after declaring the neo-fascist party a criminal organization in a landmark verdict that wrapped up one of the most important political trials in the country’s modern history.

Last week, the court convicted the party leaders of crimes related to a campaign of attacks against migrants and leftist critics in 2012 and 2013. At the end of a trial that lasted more than five years, the party was tied to a string of attacks, including the fatal stabbing in 2013 of a left-wing rapper, Pavlos Fyssas.

Giorgos Roupakias, a party member convicted of murdering Mr. Fyssas, received the harshest sentence, life plus 10 years. The court could still suspend some of the sentences.

The convictions were widely seen in Greece as a final blow to Golden Dawn — which lost all of its seats in Parliament in general elections last year, as the trial gradually eroded its popularity — though the sentences fell short of what some observers and opponents had been expecting.

The sentences “do not seem to me as appropriately severe as one might have expected,” said Seraphim Seferiades, an associate professor of politics and history at Panteion University in Athens.

Many of the group’s opponents jubilantly posted on Twitter under a hashtag in Greek that translates to “jail the nazis.” In English, #jail_golden_dawn was trending, too. But there was also disappointment that the court did not impose the maximum of 15 years in prison for leading a criminal organization.

In all, the court convicted 50 people of membership in a criminal organization — 18 of them former politicians for Golden Dawn, including its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos.

In addition to Mr. Roupakias’s conviction, five other party supporters or members were found guilty of the attempted murders of three Egyptian fishermen in 2012. Four others were convicted of causing bodily harm in assaults on members of Greece’s Communist Party trade union in 2013.

Thanassis Kampagiannis, the lawyer for the Egyptian fishermen, said on Facebook that the sentences for Golden Dawn’s leadership are “high but not as strict as they could be” while the terms for party members and for the perpetrators of individual crimes “are lower than appropriate.”

Mr. Michaloliakos and five other former members of Parliament for Golden Dawn were all sentenced to 13 years in prison. One other former lawmaker who was among the party leaders was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The group’s remaining 11 former lawmakers to be sentenced received prison terms of five to seven years.

“Today’s sentencing of the neo-Nazi organization demonstrates the resilience of our democracy and the rule of law,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote on Twitter. “This verdict marks the end of a traumatic period in Greece’s history.”

Before the sentencing, defense attorneys had urged the court to consider mitigating circumstances, citing good character, lawful behavior and, in some cases, their clients’ marriages to foreign women.

The party’s leadership was arrested in September 2013, a few days after the killing of Mr. Fyssas — the first time a leader of a Greek political party and its members of Parliament were arrested since the fall of the country’s military dictatorship in 1974.

Some of them served the legal maximum of 18 months in pretrial custody and were then released in early 2015 — time that will be deducted from their sentences.

After the sentences were announced, the court was to deliberate on whether to suspend any of them, a decision that may not come until Thursday. If the court deems any of those convicted not to be a flight risk, it might allow their sentences to be suspended pending the outcome of their appeals. The arrests of those who were convicted will be ordered, if necessary, after the court makes its announcement on whether to suspend the sentences.

Golden Dawn’s fall was as spectacular as its rise. It was catapulted from obscurity into the front line of Greek politics at the peak of the country’s financial crisis in 2012-2013 by tapping into public discontent over austerity measures and a growing influx of migrants.

In a post on Twitter last week, Mr. Michaloliakos, the party’s leader, said Greeks would remember Golden Dawn “when illegal immigrants are the majority in Greece, when they concede earth and water to Turkey, when millions of Greeks are unemployed on the streets.”

He was referring to arrivals of migrants from Turkey and a recent political crisis between the two neighbors over longstanding territorial disagreements and corresponding energy rights.

Mr. Michaloliakos insisted that the party was the victim of a witch hunt.

Mr. Seferiades said a failure by successive governments to alleviate the impact of years of austerity, and by the European Union to find a humane solution to the migration problem, had helped “normalize racist discourse.”

“Everybody knew about Golden Dawn since the ’80s, but there was no political response,” he said, adding that the 2013 crackdown was a reaction to a public outcry over the death of Mr. Fyssas, the rapper. The government “finally reacted because they ran the risk of a social uprising which they could not have handled.”

In spite of Golden Dawn’s dramatic decline, neo-fascism in Greece has not disappeared. Former members of Parliament, including Ilias Kasidiaris, Golden Dawn’s onetime spokesman, have formed parties that embrace similar views.

Less extreme right-wing parties have also sprung up, including the nationalist Greek Solution.

In the immediate political fallout from the convictions, former Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis resigned last week from the central political committee of the main leftist opposition party, Syriza and was subsequently ejected from the party. In addition to infighting within the party, he cited concerns that a criminal code introduced last year by the previous leftist administration could lead to lighter sentences for Golden Dawn.

The code, backed by the Syriza leader, former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, would treat the leader of a criminal organization the same as any other member, he said.

The governing conservative New Democracy party responded that Mr. Kontonis’ comments “exposed Mr. Tsipras’ blatant cynicism and profound hypocrisy.”

“He stood outside the appeals court demanding the conviction of Golden Dawn’s officials,” the party said, “when, as prime minister, he had ensured a ‘softer fall’ for them.”

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Newsrust: Leaders of Greece's Golden Dawn Sentenced to Prison
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