ATHENS – A member of the European Parliament appeared in a Greek court Monday after being convicted last week of being a leading member of a criminal organization along with other members of the extreme-right Golden Dawn party.
Ioannis Lagos, who faces up to 15 years in prison, traveled from Brussels to Athens to attend the sentencing hearings. He made a formal request for the three judges trying the case to be replaced.
"I believe that there is a prevailing bias against the defendants and that the judges involved in the case came under direct and indirect pressure from the political establishment,” Lagos told the court.
The court rejected his request, shortly before ending the session. It will continue Tuesday with the prosecutor proposing sentences for all of those convicted.
Lagos and 17 other former Greek parliament members from Golden Dawn were convicted last week of leading a criminal organization, or simple membership, and face sentences of between five and 15 years in prison.
Thirty-nine other Golden Dawn members and associates were also convicted of numerous offenses, from murder and violent assaults against immigrants to perjury.
Presiding judge Maria Lepenioti said mitigating circumstances would be granted to four former lawmakers and 10 other convicted members on grounds of age, expressions of remorse and lack of prior convictions. Leniency wasn't recognized for Lagos or six other former parliament members considered to be leaders of the organization.
The government hailed the trial as a victory for the country's democratic institutions.
“This landmark trial is coming to an end. It demonstrated that our society and the justice system have prevailed,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said. “Our democracy and our country's institutions are strong.”
Golden Dawn was founded as a Neo-Nazi group in the 1980s, but saw a surge in popularity during the 2010-2018 financial crisis, gaining parliamentary representation between 2012 and 2019.
The five-year trial was launched following the 2013 murder of rap singer and left-wing activist Pavlos Fyssas, who was stabbed to death by a Golden Dawn supporter.
Hundreds of protesters, many from left-wing groups and labor unions, gathered outside the court and chanted “Smash the fascists in every neighborhood.”
“All of us that are gathered here for the Nazis to be jailed with the biggest possible sentences,” retiree Leonidas Rendzakis, standing outside the court, told The Associated Press.
Police banned a rally planned by supporters of Golden Dawn and detained several party supporters who appeared outside the court.
Sentences are expected to be announced later Monday unless the judges are replaced.
Raphael Kominis and Iliana Mier contributed to this report.