The leader of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party will appear in court to face charges of belonging to a criminal organization. Authorities have cracked down on the party after the murder of an anti-fascist musician.
Golden Dawn party leader Nikos Michaloliakos will appear in court late Wednesday. In the morning, the court indicted four lawmakers of the former fringe party - Ilias Kasidiaris, Yiannis Lagos, Nikos Michos and Ilias Panagiotaros - on the same charge of belonging to a criminal organization.
"We have a golden opportunity to purge our society of violence," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told Skai Radio on Tuesday, calling Golden Dawn "a criminal organization that tried to cover itself under a political cloak."
Four members of parliament and more than a dozen lower-ranking Golden Dawn adherents will stand trial on charges from attempted and voluntary homicide to belonging to a criminal organization after arrests and police raids on the party and its followers over the weekend. If convicted, the defendants face sentences of at least 10 years in prison.
Alleged to have begun attacking migrants in 1987, Golden Dawn emerged from Greece's 2012 elections with about 7 percent of the vote and 18 places in the 300-seat parliament. The anti-immigrant party had relatively high support until September, when the murder of the anti-fascist hip-hop musician Pavlos Fyssas, which was claimed by a party sympathizer, sparked protests that forced the government to crack down on the party.
Golden Dawn denies the charges.
On Wednesday, the court freed three of the indicted senior Golden Dawn lawmakers pending trial and ordered a fourth kept in detention. All four had denied charges against them in a plea session before an investigating magistrate that ended early Wednesday after more than 18 hours. The court's surprise decision to free the trio complicates the government's efforts to clamp down on the party following the murder.
The court released spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris on bail but ordered him and two other members of parliament not to leave Greece.
A fourth Golden Dawn legislator, Yannis Lagos, remains in custody. Greece's EYP intelligence service had begun compiling a record on the legislator in 2012, tracking activities such as extortion and the trafficking of women for prostitution, the daily Ta Nea reported on Tuesday.
Magistrates have compiled a long dossier on Golden Dawn, whose leading cadres the center-right government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras hopes to put behind bars. An investigation has revealed a series of "criminal acts" by the group, culminating in the alleged murder of Fyssas by a self-confessed neo-Nazi, according to a government report.
The investigation also uncovered close ties between the party and Greek police, something rights and migrant groups had warned about for years. Early on Wednesday, police arrested a former station chief in a migrant-heavy district of Athens where Golden Dawn began systematic attacks on residents about four years ago.
On Tuesday, the ruling center-right New Democracy party headed by Samaras expelled the lawyer Pavlos Sarakis from its ranks for agreeing to defend Kasidiaris. The Greek parliament has also received emergency legislation to stop the institutional flow of state funds to Golden Dawn.
mkg/hc (Reuters, AFP, AP)