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Greek court begins landmark appeal trial of convicted neo-Nazi leaders

Hundreds protest in support of harsher jail terms for heads of extremist Golden Dawn group, who were handed from 5 to 13 years for murder of rapper and other crimes

Convicted members of the golden dawn party are surrounded by special police forces  during the appeal trial in Athens on June 15, 2022. (Photo by Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP)
Convicted members of the golden dawn party are surrounded by special police forces during the appeal trial in Athens on June 15, 2022. (Photo by Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

ATHENS, Greece — The appeal trial of dozens of senior Greek neo-Nazis began Wednesday, nearly two years after their conviction in a landmark case over the murder of an anti-fascist rapper and other crimes.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Athens on Wednesday, calling for harsher prison terms for the nearly fifty members of the Golden Dawn group.

“Do NOT reduce their sentences,” read one of the banners carried by the protesters, many of whom were chanting: “Nazis in prison forever.”

The appeal was filed in October 2020 by a senior Greek prosecutor immediately after the original trial concluded, on the grounds that the sentences handed down were too lenient.

Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos and other senior members of the group — which was once Greece’s third most popular political party — received prison sentences ranging from five to just under 14 years. They now face a maximum sentence of 15 years behind bars.

The Golden Dawn trial, which lasted more than five years, has been described as one of the most significant in Greek political history.

Prosecuting lawyers had been seeking tougher sentences for the 2013 murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas and the savage beatings of migrants and political opponents.

Supporters of Greece’s extreme right Golden Dawn raise torches during a rally in Athens, on February 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos and nearly 60 other members were found guilty of participation in a criminal organization in 2020.

Michaloliakos is currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and is not expected to attend.

Other prominent former Golden Dawn members on trial are European Parliament member Ioannis Lagos and former party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who has formed a new nationalist group.

Golden Dawn, a xenophobic and antisemitic organization, existed on the fringes of Greek politics until the country’s 2010 debt crisis. It capitalized on public anger over immigration and austerity cuts, entering parliament for the first time in 2012 with a total of 18 seats. Three years later, Golden Dawn emerged as the third most powerful political force in the country.

The appeal trial is expected to last at least a year.

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