ATHENS, Greece — A court sentenced five top leaders of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party to at least four years in prison for their role in the killing of an anti-fascist rapper. The sentence was widely expected, and the party issued a statement insisting that it would not be bowed.
The verdict was just the latest in a string of devastating blows for the nationalist-tinged group, which until now has never been convicted of any serious crime. The group has repeatedly denounced the “leftist-rightist-leftist conspiracies” behind the crackdown and “all these terrorist attacks.”
The verdict on Friday, less than two weeks before national elections, could have serious implications for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s faltering, left-wing Syriza party, which has ridden a wave of anti-fascist sentiment to make gains in recent months but is still trailing the two leading parties, New Democracy and the right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks.
Greek police say they believe the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, 28, took place after the leaders went on a party-funded motorcycle trip around Athens in July 2015 to visit a black nationalist shrine. Fyssas, who was himself known for anti-fascist comments, was fatally stabbed while sitting in his car. Police say he was wearing a helmet that would have obscured his face and robbed his assailant of a good view of his face.
Fyssas’s death shocked a nation that had been somewhat numb to political violence. Police found e-mails in the car belonging to the Golden Dawn party’s top four leaders, reading: “We will do something we have planned a long time ago, because if you didn’t know it, you know it now.” They also found an electronic map of Athens where they had ridden.
It was Fyssas’s murder that was used to prompt authorities to investigate Golden Dawn and the police for their alleged involvement in the killing and in premeditated other attacks.
There were also allegations that Golden Dawn was responsible for a killing that took place near the city of Corinth in 2015, in which a 17-year-old migrant was stabbed to death on a bus — purportedly because he had fought in a war between Kurdish groups in Syria.
Since then, 11 high-ranking members of the party, including three in leadership, have been sentenced to life in prison.