In Athens, the verdict of the murderers of a young gay man, icon of the LGBT movement, provokes indignation

Two men were sentenced to ten years in prison but will not serve their full sentence. Four police officers involved in the death of Zak Kostopoulos in 2018 have been acquitted.

The procession around Omonia Square (in French, de la Concorde), in the center of Athens, formed at the very beginning of the evening. Dozens of people gathered to denounce the verdict of the murderers of Zak Kostopoulos, a young homosexual, drag queen, murdered in September 2018 by the owner of a jewelry store as well as an accomplice.

The Athens Assize Court sentenced them to ten years in prison each for beating and inflicting serious injuries that led to death at 33 years of “Zak”, also known as artist “Zakie Oh”. The Greek LGBTQ community had made Kostopoulos’ death a textbook case, arguing that his death was a “hate crime”.

The court did not recognize mitigating circumstances for the two convicted and imposed the maximum sentence of ten years, provided for by Greek law, for the crime of “bodily harm leading to death”, according to a judicial source.

“Incomprehensible decision”

But neither will fully serve his sentence: one is under house arrest because of his age and the other should benefit from reduced sentence. Also in the dock were four police officers who chased the staggering Zak and beat him as well. They were cleared as Zak was pronounced dead while being transferred to hospital.

“Shame !”shouted in the crowded courtroom some people when the verdict was announced and protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Athens, arguing that Zackie’s death was “an assassination”.

“The court decision is incomprehensible! She exonerates the police when they hit the victim. That’s why I wanted to protest.”Explain Markos Chalidaios, a 27-year-old mathematician, questioned in the protest on Tuesday evening. He adds : “In 2018, I was continuing my studies outside of Greece, but I was following, horrified, the news about Zak’s death.”

“Message of impunity”

Horror is, in fact, the feeling that predominated during the viewing during the trial of the videos taken during the crime. For some unknown reason, Zak walks into a jewelry store in broad daylight. The owner locks him in the shop before giving him, with an accomplice, multiple violent kicks. The ostensibly trapped young man tries to escape.

Why such a relentless attack on this young LGBT rights activist, involved in various associations and also a journalist? The question remains unanswered at the end of this trial which began in October and which ended on Tuesday. Zak had no jewelry on him, so no theft. For Eliza Goroya, from the Positiv Voice association specializing in the prevention of AIDS, “This verdict, although unfair, was expected. Once again, the signal is given that the police can act with impunity. Police violence is likely to increase.

The NGO Amnesty International is also concerned that “the acquittal of the police officers involved in the death of Zak Kostopoulos is a message of impunity” when the victims and their families “are left without justice”. Vangelis Skoufas, in charge of LGBT issues for the Greek left party Syriza deplores “the acquittal of the four police officers which brings to the surface all the pathologies and rigidities of the Greek State, unfortunately proving that the political and judicial system of the country does not want to modify this systemic repression which it uses, and which cuts down even more on social groups already discriminated against”.

“This brutal murder was not judged for what it was.adds Skoufas, that is to say a homophobic act, because the police are always innocent for the courts; because not all lives have the same value”. This is also the message carried by Magda Fyssas, the mother of Pavlos Fyssas assassinated by members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in 2013, who came to support the mother of Zak Kostopoulos. She was insulted and pushed around by police during the trial.

Update at 8:45 a.m. with correction of the name of Vangelis Skoufas.

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