ATHENS – The leaders of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn, the country’s third most popular party in parliament during the debt crisis, were guilty of running a criminal organization, a Greek appeals court ruled on Wednesday.
Golden Dawn first entered parliament in 2012 on an anti-austerity and anti-immigrant agenda and became Greece’s third most popular party at the height of the worst financial crisis since World War II.
However, the 2013 killing of 34-year-old left rapper Pavlos Fyssas by a supporter of the party resulted in a crackdown that prompted prosecutors to arrest and investigate Golden Dawn leaders and lawmakers for a number of crimes.
The previous Wednesday, the court had found Golden Dawn sympathizer Yiorgos Roupakias guilty of killing Fyssas.
According to Reuters witnesses, Greek police fired tear gas in crowds gathered outside the courthouse after fringe elements in the crowd dropped gasoline bombs at the police.
It was the first time since a military coup in 1967 that elected politicians were jailed in Greece. Golden Dawn failed to win a single seat in parliament in last year’s general election that brought the conservative New Democracy Party to power.
Prosecutors had charged 65 people, including 18 former Golden Dawn lawmakers, with being members of a criminal organization. Her trial began in April 2015, when the party said she was the victim of a politically motivated witch hunt.
Dozens of other people on trial, party members and suspected employees, are convicted of murders ranging from murder to perjury, which are linked to a spate of violent attacks on immigrants and leftist activists.
Wednesday’s verdict now sets the stage for the high profile case in which the court is investigating individual charges of the murder of rapper Fyssas and other violent attacks.
Tens of thousands gathered in front of the heavily police appeals court and held banners reading “Fascism, never again” and “Freedom for the people, death to fascism”.
“We have to send a message to the younger generations, a message against fascism,” said 69-year-old Sophia. “It is our duty to democracy to be here today to show that we defend ourselves against such criminal acts.”
Human rights group Amnesty International, which helped organize a network to record racist violence in Greece, said Wednesday’s ruling would increase efforts to combat hate crimes.
“The allegations against the leaders and members of Golden Dawn, including the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, reveal a rift that exists not just in Greece but across Europe and beyond,” said Nils Muiznieks, European director at Amnesty.