After the surprising and disturbing release on conditional bail of three Golden Dawn MPs, I was relieved to see that their leader Michaloliakos has been kept in custody pending trial. Ilias Kasidiaris left the court and proceeded to punch a camera, kick a photojournalist and knock another cameraman to the ground (one from Reuters and one from Alpha channel I believe. I am not sure who the other person was). In my opinion he should have been immediately re-arrested for assault but that hasn’t happened yet. Golden Dawn are claiming victory and blindly claiming that their idols are free. They are not. They are on conditional bail awaiting trial. This means that they are not considered a flight risk and they are deemed unlikely to commit further crimes. As we have see from Ilias Kasidiaris, this is not true but that’s how the justice system is choosing to run this.
Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos has been ordered to remain in custody pending trial.
Earlier, the leader of Greece’s neo-Nazi party defended himself before a magistrate on charges of setting up a criminal organization.
During a marathon session at the Evelpidon court complex in Athens that went on until the early hours of Thursday, Michaloliakos denied the charges which he refuted as politically-motivated.
“I feel sorry for the murder of [Pavlos] Fyssas,” Michaloliakos said of the 34-year-old rapper that was stabbed to death by a Golden Dawn member last month.
“I condemn [the murder], like I condemn violence in general. I am not a Nazi,” said the 56-year-old mathematician.
Michaloliakos said he had no knowledge if individual members of Golden Dawn have broken the law. But the activity of the party, he said, has been within the contours of parliamentary politics.
The decision on Michaloliakos followed a testimony by Giorgos Patelis, the head of the local chapter of Golden Dawn in Nikaia, southwest of Athens, close to the run-down district of Keratsini where Fyssas was stabbed. Patelis, whose testimony was completed around 3.30 a.m. on Thursday, was also remanded in custody.
On Wednesday, three senior Golden Dawn lawmakers were freed pending trial – a surprise decision that fueled skepticism about the solidity of the state’s case against the ultranationalist party.
Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris and fellow lawmakers Ilias Panagiotaros and Nikos Michos stormed out of the court to cheers of “bravo” from supporters. They kicked and shoved journalists out of the way before hailing a taxi.
A fourth MP, Yiannis Lagos, was remanded in custody after a prosecutor and magistrate agreed that he was both a flight risk and likely to reoffend. It remained unclear why judicial officials believed that the same did not apply to Michos or to Kasidiaris, who faces a separate trial for assaulting two female MPs on live television last year.
Golden Dawn’s second-in-command according to prosecutors, Christos Pappas, is scheduled to appear before a magistrate at 10 a.m. on Thursday.
Also late on Wednesday police announced the arrest of Golden Dawn candidate Themis Skordeli. Reports said police found 145,000 euros in her apartment.
The lawmakers and members of Golden Dawn who avoided pretrial detention yesterday have hopefully received a useful lesson: Democracy functions according to specific principles. Their noisy allegations of a conspiracy against the far-right party and that they were the victims of political persecution proved to be foolish.
Judging however from the first reactions of Ilias Kasidiaris following his release, it is hard to be hopeful. On his way out of the Evelpidon court complex in Athens, the MP and spokesman of the extreme-right party hit a cameraman and kicked a photographer. Lessons in democratic politics are a non-starter for the core of Golden Dawn. These people feel free to exercise violence, not only in the dark of the night but also in the light of day. Nor are their attacks limited to foreign immigrants who have little chance of finding justice.
In any case – and besides the charges of felony and founding a criminal organization – the question also is: Should people who hit women on live TV or kick unsuspected reporters in the street be allowed to roam free? Even if – or rather despite the fact that – they are members of Parliament?
At the end of the day, if a similar assault had been committed by a hot-tempered regular citizen, you can be sure that he or she would already be facing the legal consequences of his action. Interestingly, Golden Dawn has taken every opportunity to express its indignation about the supposed lack of equality before the law, lamenting the alleged immunity status of Greek politicians. So I guess the other members and supporters of Golden Dawn will not mind if Kasidiaris gets punished for his thuggery.
It would not be wise to say much about the court’s decision to free the three deputies pending trial. No one knows better than the judges in this case. We should not forget that pretrial custody is an extreme measure and in a way constitutes an abuse of the democratic principle which says that no one must remain in jail without prior court ruling. However, in the way that being remanded in custody does not mean one is guilty, being released pending trial does not mean one is innocent either. Any judges who take into account the doubts about charges against suspects and don’t remand in custody everyone who appears before them are acting correctly.
The purpose of pretrial custody is to make sure that the suspects do not seek to evade trial, that they do not commit further crimes, and, finally, that they do not tamper with the case file. In this case, there seems to be no reason to be concerned about the first one. Time will tell about the second and the third. If, for example, the witnesses for the prosecution have trouble recalling, as it were, any important details that appear in their testimony, the prosecutors will need to be held accountable. No one is above criticism.
These are critical days. For the first time since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, a party’s deputies and members are being charged with felony; for the first time, we have seen a party like Golden Dawn enter Parliament; and for the first time, deputies are beating up citizens in the open.
This does not mean that the system can make concessions over the defendants’ rights. But similarly, it does not mean that nothing can be done merely because the defendants happen to be politicians.