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February 05, 2015

U.S. Should Support Fair Trial of Golden Dawn Members Accused of Violent Attacks in Greece

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today called on the U.S. government to support a full and fair judicial proceeding in the Greek case against members of the violently antisemitic political party Golden Dawn. At least seventy members of the party, including 18 of whom served in the previous parliament, are now set to stand trial for belonging to a criminal organization, which has been accused of violent attacks.

“It is important for Greek voters and the international community to see the evidence against Golden Dawn, and we encourage a timely, transparent, and fair trial that meets international standards,” said Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke. “These defendants are being prosecuted for their alleged crimes, not their Nazi ideology, as odious as it is. There are indications of Golden Dawn involvement in several murders and a campaign of violent hate attacks.”

The antisemitic, xenophobic, homophobic Golden Dawn party burst into Greek politics in 2010, winning 18 seats in parliament in 2012. Its top leaders were arrested in September 2013, following the murder of an anti-fascist musician. The party nevertheless won more than 10 percent of the vote in the May 2014 European elections, gaining three seats in the European Parliament, as well as 17 seats in parliament in snap elections last month. The party’s rise is documented in a recent report by Human Rights First, “We’re not Nazis, but...The Rise of Hate Parties in Hungary and Greece and Why America Should Care.”

Golden Dawn founder and party leader Nikolas Michaloliakos appeared before the Greek parliament in June wearing what he called “handcuffs of honor,” and accusing the ruling party of political persecution. Nevertheless, his fellow lawmakers voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of Michaloliakos so that he could be prosecuted on charges of “directing a criminal organization.” Golden Dawn supporters outside the parliament building sang the Nazi SS anthem.

The Golden Dawn lawmakers have denied all wrongdoing. The Greek media has published numerous photographs and videos seized from the suspects’ homes, showing them with swastikas, giving the Heil Hitler salute, and at what appears to be a paramilitary training camp. While such evidence may be important in establishing motivation or preparation for crimes, it is the prosecutor’s responsibility to prove that the defendants, however offensive their political beliefs, were responsible for the specific offenses, which include “directing a criminal organization,” weapons charges and at least one murder.

In addition to supporting a fair trial, the U.S. government should aid in creating reforms to the Greek law enforcement system that would increase its capacity to investigate and punish hate crimes.

For more information or to speak with Stahnke, contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3318.