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April 28, 2016

Little to Show at One-Year Anniversary of Greece’s Golden Dawn Trial

By Annie Glasser

Last Wednesday marked one year since the start of the Golden Dawn trial in Greece. The trial, originally a remarkable effort to focus on accountability for the organization’s criminal activities, is “going nowhere fast,” according to trial observers.

Last year, sixty-nine members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, including its leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were charged with running a criminal organization. Some defendants were also charged with crimes related to specific incidents of violence, including the assault and attempted murder of Abouzid Embarak, the attempted murder of PAME trade unionists, and the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas. The hearings have thus far focused on the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-fascist musician. In March, Fyssas’s alleged murderer, Fiorgos Roupakias, was released and placed under house arrest after spending the maximum 18 months permissible in pretrial custody.

Even at the outset, a fair and credible trial was hardly assured. As the State Department noted in its 2015 report on human rights, the judiciary in Greece is at times inefficient and subject to influence and corruption. Human Rights First has called on the U.S. government and the broader European community to monitor the trials and promote fair proceedings. Golden Dawn Watch, a civil society initiative to monitor the trial, regularly posts updates.

Many view the defense’s constant objections—over improper venue, inadequate public access, and inadequate recording of the hearings—as an intentional “delaying tactic” to disengage the public and discourage media coverage of the trial. And in the midst of economic uncertainty and tense relations with the European Union due to the refugee crisis, the Golden Dawn trial has fallen from the news reel.   

Beyond these delays, the trial stalled in January due to an attorney strike over planned pension reforms. The Athens Bar Association refused to exempt the Golden Dawn trial from the action, and there is no indication of when the strike will end.

While the trial is on hold, Golden Dawn continues to gain momentum by exploiting the volatile political conditions created by the arrival of refugees and migrants in Greece. The far-right group propagates xenophobic values and incites violence against vulnerable minorities. In February, Golden Dawn supporters organized an anti-immigrant protest, in which demonstrators reportedly scuffled with anti-fascist counter-protestors. The party has also allegedly stoked violent protests against refugee reception centers. Golden Dawn members and affiliates have further threatened witnesses and journalists connected to the trial.

The U.S. government should help Greece combat hate crimes committed by Golden Dawn and other far-right groups by sending monitors to ensure that the trial meets international due process standards. The U.S. Embassy in Athens should also offer technical assistance to the Greek government to provide support for a revitalized witness protection program. A full and fair trial is critical to bringing justice for the victims as well as showing that Greece is capable of mobilizing a robust criminal justice response to extremist groups that organize and incite bias-motivated violence.