Golden Dawn: From parliament to prison - Indications of preferential treatment?
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The video starts with a voice ― but this time the voice is female, probably not the one that the followers of this particular YouTube channel would expect to hear.
"Good evening, Mr. Ilias Kasidiaris, I am speaking [to you] as a lawyer," the woman on one end of the phone line can be heard saying. "In light of the decision banning your communication with persons other than relatives and lawyers, I would like to hear your opinion on this issue, and for you to give me permission to record this conversation,” she continues.
On the other end of the line, Ilias Kasidiaris, former MP of and representative of Golden Dawn, who serves a sentence of 13 years and six months after he and other leaders of the Greek neo-Nazi party were found guilty of running a criminal organisation in October 2020, gives consent for the recording. Furthermore his wish is, he says, “to make every legal use of this material,” for his defence, “and for the information of the Greek citizens".
Thus, the call is recorded. And on 24 October 2021, the recording is uploaded on Kasidiaris’ personal YouTube channel, where his over 106,000 subscribers can hear him speaking, once again, from inside Domokos prison.
During the conversation, which lasts 17 minutes, the lawyer speaks just three times ― always for only a few seconds. Her brief interventions serve as setting the floor, so that Kasidiaris can make extensive statements on a wide range of issues.
At the end of their communication, just a few seconds before the advertisement for Kasidiaris’ latest book on “the millennial war of Greeks against Turkish barbarism” drops, the lawyer makes the interjection.
“I would like to point out, refuting the rumors about you not participating in the upcoming elections,” she says, “that both your participation and success are certain.”
Golden Dawn in prison: The signs of preferential treatment
Approximately 16 months have passed since the historic conviction of Golden Dawn as a criminal organisation, after a trial that lasted well over five years, and saw 18 leading figures, including its lifelong leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, and former MPs getting sentences of up to 13 years and eight months.
As Golden Dawn’s influence has weakened, other ex leading members have gone on to found their own political formations. In October 2021, an extensive Solomon report captured the online activity of Kasidiaris, founder of the ‘Greeks for the Fatherland’, after leaving Golden Dawn, and his effort to become the main figure of today’s Greek Far Right ― from jail.
This report covers all evidence implying that, inside the penitentiary system, Golden Dawn’s former leading members enjoy preferential treatment. From the tactics to which Kasidiaris has resorted in order to avoid the ban imposed on his communications, and continue his regular public interventions, to the “workshifts” in jail ― through which prisoners get sooner released ― that the jailed ex leading members rapidly ensured, despite the fact that workshifts are de facto not enough for all prisoners and requests for them are processed by chronological order. Reaching to the recent court suggestions for the release of convicted members of the neo-Nazi party, because “there is no serious likelihood of committing a new act."
Kasidiaris: Propaganda via YouTube from prison
Kasidiaris’ video mentioned in this article's introduction was published on 24 October 2021 and currently has at least 101,400 views. It comes to add to a long list of similar videos uploaded on Kasidiaris’ channel during his sentence.
Kasidiaris sent his “first message from prison”, as was the title of a video uploaded on 27 October 2020, just four days after he and the other leading members were transferred to Domokos prison following their conviction.
In the sixteen months since, out of a total of 124 videos since June 2012 when his channel was created, more than 52 videos have been uploaded on it.
These 52 videos have gathered at least 6.82 million views ― that means an average of approximately 131,150 views per video. According to the social media analysis tool Social Blade, during Kasidiaris’ time in prison his channel has gained over 36,100 new subscribers.
Besides some interviews on radio and web radio, the limited use of Twitter (he tweets between one and eight times a week according to Social Blade), and a recently-launched weekly column in Eleftheri Ora, a far-right fringe newspaper often promoting disinformation, his YouTube channel remains the main channel for propagating his positions while in detention.
The platform is ideal for him to make exaggerated claims and “revelations”, as he often says, without any counterargument or the need to actually prove these allegations.
While in Domokos prison, Kasidiaris has been coordinating conferences of his party, and has spoken live at rallies in Thessaloniki. He has announced his intention to take legal action against officials, including the prime minister, and declares aggressively, video after video, the spectacular rise in his popularity and his success at the next elections.
Until this activity is cut off ― or, at least, for a while.
The ban on his communication and Kasidiaris' new tactics
On 7 October 2021, after roughly a year in which Kasidiaris had been using YouTube to gather around him an ever-increasing number of supporters, a ban on his communications was announced.
By then, it had become apparent that Kasidiaris had been using a mobile phone, talking with his associate, who recorded their discussions and uploaded them. The use of mobiles is prohibited under prison regulations, but not unknown within Greece’s detention facilities.
The ban put on him puts in effect the restrictions practically in effect for any detainee, that is he was now allowed to communicate only with relatives and lawyers. A silence followed.
But two and a half weeks later, on 24 October 2021, a video appeared again on Kasidiaris’ YouTube channel, and more than seven followed since.
Only now Kasidiaris employs a tactic to manipulate the ban against him: all videos now begin with lawyers of the party claiming that the conversation takes place as part of their legal duties as Kasidiaris’ attorneys. An image at the beginning of each video also states the discussion concerns exclusively issues related to Kasidiaris’ legal cases.
But that’s not the case.
After the pretextual questions as the beginning, Kasidiaris talks long on issues entirely unrelated to his own cases: from the pandemic and the restriction measures against the unvaccinated, which he fiercely condemns, to spreading anti-migrant rhetoric on the occasion of the new refugee camps built on the Greek islands.
Is Kasidiaris' new tactic consistent with the decision against him?
Responsibility for the management of the prison facilities in Greece lies with the Secretary General of Anti-Crime Policy.
Former Secretary, Sophia Nikolaou, had made known that she had personally taken action for the block of Kasidiaris’ “preach of hate” after his live participation in an event of his party as keynote speaker, remotely, asking the prison council of Domokos’ prison, where Kasidiaris is detained, to determine “very specific conditions” for his communication, in accordance with the legislation.
Nikolaou has left the Office since, but to what extent does Kasidiaris’ online activity comply with the bans imposed on him today? We posed this question to the Secretary General but received no answer.
Jailed MEP Lagos refuses inspection
Kasidiaris’ case is not the only one raising concerns about the preferential treatment that leading members of the Far Right enjoy within the prison.
Ioannis Lagos, former MP with the Golden Dawn, now MEP and founder of the National People’s Consciousness party (ELASYN) is serving a sentence of 13 years and six months for his role in running the criminal organisation.
Lagos’ propaganda is carried out through the party’s website and YouTube account, albeit with clearly smaller reach: just 6,000 subscribers for the YouTube account, while an analysis of the website’s articles with the Crowdtangle platform shows several of them have zero shares on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
On December 10, 2021, however, Lagos shared an interesting update via a recorded message posted on YouTube.
“An hour ago and in a truly express procedure, especially by the standards of the Greek ridiculous justice system, I was called to apologise by the disciplinary board of the prison in Domokos where we are, for my refusal yesterday to accept an inspection by the prison officials,” Lagos said, claiming that he stressed “once again” that he is a “political prisoner”.
Sources with a good knowledge of Greek prisons today said that “in prison, there is no such thing as not accepting inspection in the cell.” What happens when a prisoner refuses the check, they added, is that prison officials call the special forces who intervene and “the inspection is carried out as normal.”
It’s not clear from Lagos’ video whether this was the case after his denial. We raised the question to the General Secretariat but received no response.
There is, however, a more interesting point in Lagos’ statement, as he claims that because of his disciplinary non-compliance he was banned from working in the prison for a full year.
Work in prison is provided by the penal code, and it can be actual or ostensible work. Prisoners can provide unpaid, supplementary help with operational needs of their facility, and each day counts beneficially, reducing their actual time to serve.
Prisons’ Labour Councils examine the prisoners’ applications in order of priority and allocate the positions, which can offer 23, 30, or 45 workdays per month, with the respective number of days redacted from the prisoners sentences for each month of work.
Most positions come with 23 days of work; the rarest and most privileged are the ones with 45 days of work per month.
Several media reports confirm that before the incident, Lagos worked in Domokos prison, where he was actually in charge of the library. Sources with good knowledge of the particular facility said the position was among the so-called 45-days, among the best available.
This means that for every month of work, Lagos’ cleared an additional 45 days off his sentence!
Shifts available for all leading members of Golden Dawn
The same sources confirmed the imprisoned leaders of Golden Dawn are currently in control of the workshifts inside Domokos prison, where they maintain good relations with the administration and prison guards.
Available workshifts in any prison are not enough for all prisoners. Specifically in the case of Domokos, the facility has long been overcrowded with around 650 detainees in capacity of 600, and prison officers saying that prisoners “are sleeping on the floor”.
The same sources estimate the positions offered in the facility to a maximum of 200, possibly less. But very quickly after the imprisonment of Golden Dawn’s leaders, it was made known that other prisoners had been stripped of their positions, so that the far-right detainees could gain access to them ― and their benefits.
The Secretariat didn’t answer how many of the detainees for Golden Dawn’s case do have access to work inside the prison. According to media reports, this has been the case for all prominent figures: lifelong leader Nikos Michaloliakos has been working as a librarian, while former MPs Ilias Kasidiaris as a nurse assistant, Nikos Michos as a barber, Ilias Panagiotaros as a canteen manager, Kostas Barbarousis as a cleaner.
Releases and attempted releases
On 10 January 2022, despite the prosecutor’s objection, an appeal court ordered the release of former Golden Dawn MP Nikos Michos, sentenced to six years for his role in running the criminal organisation.
Nikos Michos, described by witnesses in the party’s trial as a “butcher” who trained Golden Dawn members in the use of the knife, has also been convicted for a brutal attack of Golden Dawn members at a social space in Athens in 2013, and identified as the “main perpetrator” of another violent attack on antifascists in Paros island in the same year.
The opinion of the prosecutor of the court was that Michos should not be released from prison, as facts had not changed since his conviction. His lawyer, however, called on a disability issue. What counted in the decision in favor of Michos' release, until his case is examined in second instance, was also the beneficial count of his workshifts in jail.
In October 2021, three convicted Golden Dawn members ― Aristotle Chrysafitis, sentenced to seven years for complicty in the murder of antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas; former MP Panagiotis Iliopoulos, and member Athanasios Stratos, both sentenced to seven years for membership in the criminal organization ― were transferred from Domokos high security prison to a rural prison, where conditions are clearly better and the 45-days workshifts are available.
Of course, the rights of prisoners should be respected, and these include both work and conditional release and parole. In this report, however, we examine the circumstances under which these decisions were taken, and the question that arises: do the same provisions apply similarly to other prisoners?
“Done for specific reasons, in view of specific conditions”
Michos’ release comes three months after Giorgos Patelis was nearly released.
Patelis had been the leader of the local Golden Dawn branch in Nikaia, Athens. Under his control, the branch had committed a series of violent attacks all over Greece, reaching to the homicide of Pavlos Fyssas on 18 September 2013.
The branch of Nikaia has been described as a “select unit” in Golden Dawn’s effort to “build a private army”, while Patelis has been widely known for his command to “slaughter whoever moves”, captured on video.
Patelis was sentenced to ten years and two months for membership in criminal organisation and participation in Fyssas' murder. In mid-October 2021, an appeal court accepted his request to be released until the second instance, after Patelis invoked psychological issues of his child.
The prosecutor argued that “there is seriously little chance of a new act being committed”, as Patelis’ crimes, he said, were committed “for specific reasons in view of specific circumstances.”
The Supreme Court revoked the decision, stating that Patelis' claim that his family suffers “is understandable and humane, but a natural consequence of the deprivation of freedom of any convicted person”.
The Supreme Court’s decision questioned that the possibility for repetition of Patelis’ crimes was little, arguing that “this is a person who, if released, is likely to commit new offences”. On 22 February 2022, Patelis returned to prison.
The Favela case: Awaiting (?) the European warrant
Golden Dawn is not a thing of the past, nor is the broader context in which the criminal organizaton was able to operate.
In the wider area of Athens, incidents of violent racist attacks against migrants have been documented in the recent months. Local branches remain active, as is the case in Thessaloniki, the country’s second largest city where an event was held for the one year anniversary since the party’s conviction, with the title “1 year after, NOBODY MADE US BEND”.
Golden Dawn, likewise the political parties of Kasidiaris and Lagos, endorsed events in which far-rights attacked students, while all three parties' ties with the anti-vaccination movement have been highlighted.
This spring, another trial related to violence by members of the Golden Dawn is expected to continue, namely for a 2018 attack against the social space Favela in Piraeus, which resulted to the hospitalization of three people, among them an accusation lawyer in Golden Dawn’s trial.
One of the defendants facing charges of attempted murder, Vassilios-Panagiotis Theodorou, has left the country since and was considered fugitive. But, in a letter presented during the court proceedings, Theodorou’s temporary residence address appears to be declared in Sweden.
As of 10 December 2021, the prosecution has asked for a European arrest warrant and a red notice to Interpol to be issued. However, as to this day no initiative has been taken to ensure his presence at the trial against him.
A shorter form of this report was published in Balkan Insight on 9/3/2022.