Trial of far-right Golden Dawn leaders starts in Greece
Source: Guardian | Monday, 20 April 2015 | Click here for original article
Nikos Michaloliakos is escorted by masked police officers in Athens in September 2013. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images
According to local officials at least one of the witnesses was hospitalised as the trial of 69 defendants – among them the party leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, and senior Golden Dawn officials – got under way.
While more than 40 defendants were present, however, neither Michaloliakos nor the majority of the party’s MPs were, in what has been interpreted as an effort to undermine the significance of the proceedings – the first time an entire party and its leadership have faced trial in Greece.
Michaloliakos, 57, and at least a dozen MPs could face 10-year prison sentences if found guilty of orchestrating a string of attacks against immigrants, leftists and gay people. Observers are divided over whether a conviction could lead to an outright ban on the party.
The trial, taking place at the Korydallos maximum security prison in Athens, is set to last for at least one year and involve 300 witnesses and 120 lawyers. On Monday it was suspended until 7 May because one of the defendants did not have legal representation.
Streets around the courthouse were closed off as a police helicopter hovered above. Neighbouring schools and municipal offices were shut over concerns that demonstrations by anti-Golden Dawn groups and party supporters could turn violent.
Around 200 Golden Dawn supporters, many in black helmets and led by Michaloliakos’s daughter, Ourania, showed up outside the prison as more than 4,000 people took part in a demonstration organised by anti-fascist groups and trade unions chanting slogans and holding banners demanding the conviction of the neo-Nazi party.“This is an important trial for Greece and democracy,” said the Athens mayor, Giorgos Kamininis, outside the courthouse, which was filled with victims and the relatives of victims of attacks allegedly carried out by Golden Dawn.
“They are not on trial for their ideas but because of their criminal activities which undermine the institution of democracy and for a host of racist attacks against migrants,” he added.
The party vehemently denies its involvement in the attacks and claims it is being illegally targeted by the political establishment after some opinion polls in 2013 estimated its support at more than 10%.
Its leadership was jailed in 2013 pending trial for allegedly running a criminal organisation after a government crackdown in the wake of the fatal stabbing of Pavlos Fyssas, a Greek anti-fascist rapper, by a Golden Dawn member in 2013. Fyssas’s mother, Magda Fyssa, was present in court on Monday.
The party began as a far right fringe party in the 1980s but rose to prominence on a wave of public anger over Greece’s financial meltdown that began in 2009 and years of austerity.
Its anti-austerity and virulently anti-immigrant rhetoric struck a chord for many disaffected Greeks, and it entered parliament in 2012. Despite having had its state campaign funding axed, Golden Dawn became the country’s third largest party in national elections in January, with 17 seats in the 300-seat parliament, winning 6.28% of the vote.