ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A Greek court ruled Thursday to imprison the leadership of extreme right-wing Golden Dawn following their convictions for running the party like a criminal organization, but granted suspended sentences to five of the party’s 18 former lawmakers who were convicted of lesser charges.
The ruling by a three-judge panel came after two weeks of summations by defense lawyers following the prosecutor’s recommendation that all former Golden Dawn lawmakers be allowed to remain free pending appeal. The appeals process could take several years.
The judges rejected a request to suspend the sentences of party leader Nikos Michaloliakos and other former lawmakers who were convicted of leading a criminal organization. Michaloliakos and another five former lawmakers received 13-year prison sentences, while a sixth was sentenced to 10 years.
The party, founded as a neo-Nazi group in the 1980s, rose to prominence during Greece’s financial crisis and was blamed for planning multiple hate crimes, including brutal street attacks on immigrants and left-wing activists.
Eleven former Golden Dawn lawmakers convicted of simple participation received sentences of between five and seven years. The judges ruled that five of those convicted of participation, including Michaloliakos’ wife, Eleni Zaroulia, could remain free until their appeals are heard.
Conditions of their their release include bans on leaving the country, the payment of 20,000 euros ($23,700) bail each and the appearance at their local police station twice a month. Seven more people convicted in the case who are not former Greek lawmakers also received suspended sentences pending appeal.
“I am proud to be going to jail for my ideas. Some people at some time will be ashamed for taking this decision,” Michaloliakos told reporters outside his Athens home after the court decision was announced. “We will be vindicated by history and by the Greek people.”
The sentencing decisions end a marathon, politically charged five-year trial involving 68 defendants, dozens of lawyers and encompassing four cases, including the 2013 fatal stabbing of left-wing Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas and physical attacks on Egyptian fishermen and left-wing activists.
Fyssa’s killer, Giorgos Roupakias, was also ordered to begin serving his life sentence.
Fyssa’s mother Magda Fyssa, who became an emblematic figure in the fight against Golden Dawn and attended all court sessions in the past five years, was there for the trial’s conclusion.
“It is not just vindication for Pavlos, but for all of us who are here,” she said.
Lawyers representing the victims expressed satisfaction with Thursday’s decision.
“Today is a day of victory and a day of justice. It is a day on which we might be crying, but we are crying with joy,” said Thanasis Kampagiannis, who represented the Egyptian fishermen. “The hundreds of migrants who were beaten, stabbed or even murdered by the Nazi organization are vindicated.”
A total of 57 party members and associates were convicted on Oct. 7, mostly for involvement in violent attacks and participating in a criminal organization.
Others ordered jailed include former party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who has since left Golden Dawn and founded his own political party, and current European Parliament member Ioannis Lagos, who also left Golden Dawn and currently lives in Brussels.
The defendants were not obliged to be in court for the hearing. Arrest orders will be issued for any of those ordered imprisoned who do not turn themselves in voluntarily.
One of the former lawmakers, Giorgos Germenis, proclaimed his innocence as he went to surrender to authorities. “This is a political prosecution,” he said, adding he had hope in the appeals process.
Golden Dawn spent decades as a fringe party on the Greek political scene before rising to prominence during the country’s 2010-2018 financial crisis, winning parliament seats in four separate elections and becoming Greece’s third-largest political party.
Its popularity began to wane during the long trial, and it failed to win any parliament seats in the 2019 general election.
Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.