Demonstrators clash with riot police in Athens, Greece, on Oct. 7, 2020. A Greek court ruled on Wednesday that the leadership and members of ultra-right party Golden Dawn (GD-Chryssi Avghi in Greek), the third largest political party in the parliament until last year, are guilty of operating as a criminal organization, Greek national broadcaster ERT reported. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)
ATHENS, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- A Greek court ruled on Wednesday that the country's far-right Golden Dawn party (GD, Chryssi Avghi in Greek) was operating as a criminal organization.
The verdict was welcomed as a victory of democracy and justice by political leaders, associations of judges, university professors, trade unions, the media and ordinary citizens.
In a unanimous ruling, the Athens Criminal Appeals Court said that the GD, which was the third-largest political party in parliament until last year, was a criminal organization "wearing the cloak of a political party," the Greek national news agency AMNA reported.
GD leader Nikos Michaloliakos and six other former GD members of parliament (MPs) were found guilty of establishing and running a criminal organization, while 11 other former MPs were among dozens found guilty of participating in this criminal organization. Altogether 68 defendants stood trial (one person died during the court procedure).
Sentencing could last several days as appeals for reduced terms will be made.
Michaloliakos and the other former lawmakers face between five and 15 years in prison, and the other members face similar sentences on charges ranging from murder to extortion and illegal possession of weapons.
GD's leaders and members have been linked to dozens of assaults against migrants and political opponents over the past years.
The fatal stabbing of Pavlos Fyssas, a 34-year-old Greek musician and anti-fascist activist, by Yorgos Roupakias, a GD supporter, in a Piraeus suburb in autumn 2013 sent shockwaves across the country and triggered a judicial crackdown on Golden Dawn.
Roupakias and the other 15 defendants were found guilty of murder or guilty as accessories. Only 11 defendants were present in the courtroom and none from Golden Dawn's leadership.
The long-awaited verdict in the trial that started in the spring of 2015 closes a painful chapter in the country's history, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and other political party leaders commented after Wednesday's ruling.
"In our country's long democratic tradition, phenomena of extreme political violence have always been foreign. Today's decision is a confirmation that democracy and its institutions always have the capability to foil any attempt to undermine them," Sakellaropoulou stated, according to an e-mailed press release.
"A traumatic cycle of the country's public life is closing today... Democracy won today. It is up to us that it wins every day," Mitsotakis said in a statement.
Wednesday's verdict is expected to be the final blow for the political party that was elected to the Greek and European Parliaments many times since 2012, riding on the wave of discontent over harsh austerity measures imposed to address a severe debt crisis, which brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy.
Following Greece's exit from the harsh bailout period in 2018, the party, which was founded as a marginal group in the 1980s, failed to enter parliament in the 2019 general elections and has been crumbling since then.
"The trial is one of the largest in Greece's recent history. It is of great importance. It revealed to Greek society how this neo-Nazi group was operating using systematically raw violence behind the facade of a political party," Xenophon Contiades, professor of public and social law at the University of Peloponnese, commented on Greek national broadcaster ERT on Wednesday.
"One of the most emblematic trials in Greece's recent history is over. Independent justice has been and remains a pillar of democracy," Greece's Association of Judges and Prosecutors added in a press release.
"We were vindicated. My son, you did it. We have won a battle and we owe it to all of you. Nothing is over," Magda Fyssa, mother of Pavlos Fyssas, a woman who has become a symbol of the battle against the far-right in recent years, told a cheering crowd outside the courthouse after the ruling was announced.
According to the police, an estimated 20,000 protestors joined a gathering organized by leftist parties, migrants' associations and trade unions in front of the courthouse.
"We achieved a historic victory inside and outside the courthouse," Kostas Papadakis, the civil attorney representing four Egyptian fishermen who were assaulted by a group of some 20 people inside their home in a Piraeus port suburb in 2012, told the press on Wednesday.
One of the victims, a 28-year-old father of three children, was severely injured and still faces serious health problems. All the defendants accused in connection with the attack were found guilty.
As the first cheers outside the courthouse on Wednesday faded, politicians, sociologists, media commentators and ordinary Greeks stressed that a decisive step was made, but the war against far-right ideology, xenophobia and racism continues until "all neo-Nazi killers are imprisoned," as one of the banners read.
In the coming days, the GD's leaders are expected to be arrested. So far, they have claimed to be victims of a political witch hunt. Enditem