By George Gilson

A mixed judge and jury Athens lower court today handed down a ten-year prison sentence for a jewelry shop owner and his friend, a real estate agent whose office was nearby, for the September, 2018 lynching of  33-year-old LGBTQ activist Zak (Zacharias) Kostopoulos, just a few hundred yards from the Omonia Square police precinct.

According to  the charges, the two men “intentionally caused bodily injuries [to the victim] that could potentially, as in fact occurred, endanger his life, which is to say dangerous bodily harm”.

It remains unclear why Kostopoulos entered the shop and no evidence was presented that he intended to steal. He had no jewelry on him when after the tremendous blows to the head from the kicking he was able to crawl out of the shop window.

Four police officers, who went to the scene to arrest Kostopoulos but not the culprits, were charged with “deadly bodily harm” due to  their treatment of Kostopoulos, who was handcuffed face down when he was already unconscious, were acquitted.

One of Greece’s most prominent criminal lawyers, Alexis Kouyas, told that the real estate agent will be incarcerated for at most four years (which can be reduced if one works in prison). He also noted that the Greek Penal Code provides that convicts who are over 75-years old can be  allowed to serve out their term at home, and that each year of the sentence counts as four years, so the jeweler will be free in two-and-a-half years.

Greek political parties and numerous LGBTQ, human rights, and other organisations at the time of the heinous killing issued statements condemning vigilantism.

Kostopoulos had entered the shop when the jeweler had stepped out briefly and the door automatically locked him inside.

When the shop owner returned with his friend Kostopoulos had taken a fire extinguisher and had broken the shop window at ground level in an attempt to crawl out. While still in the shop window showcase on his knees, two men mercilessly kicked him in the head in a frenzied manner, causing his death, as the court ruled.

In the three-and-a-half years since the killing, LGBTQ and human rights activists have staged dozens of protest demanding justice for the Kostopoulos.

There are several amateur videos of the killing taken by cell phones by individuals at the scene or nearby.

The court refused to grant a suspended sentence due to a “prior honourable life” (a term in the Greek Penal Code), but the shop owner will serve out his sentence at home due to his age, 77-years-old.

Prosecutor’s proposal

The court followed the recommendation of prosecutor Sotirios Bouyoukos who requested that the court not grant the culprits a suspended sentence, and that they begin serving their prison term immediately.

However, he requested that the 77-year-old jeweler serve out his sentence at his home due to his age.

He told the court that the two men during interrogation and throughout the trial expressed no remorse and appeared not to be cognisant of the seriousness of their crime.

“Their [the culprits’] actions displayed  elements of a  punitive intent. Zacharias Kostopoulos never attacked the [two] accused, as he was trapped and they were safe. It was proven that it was they who attacked him. From the way they acted and their behaviour, it is clear that do extenuating circumstance should be recognised,” the prosecutor told the court.

Present in the courtroom when today’s verdict was handed down, in  a show of solidarity with the victims’ parents, was Magda Fyssa, who became an anti-fascist icon after her son Pavlos Fyssas, an ant-fascist rapper, was murdered in cold blood and in public view in September, 2013, by a member of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which an Athens court outlawed, ruling that it was a criminal organisation. It emerged that the murder was organised by the local Golden Dawn cell.

Kostopoulos’ background

Kostopoulos was born in the United States to Greek-American parents, who still lived in the US at the time of the killing, and had dual citizenship.

He studied acting and marketing and later had worked at “Athens Check Point”, a facility that offers free, anonymous  HIV testing and counseling and is run by Thetiki Foni (Positive Voice), Greece’s only  organisation of  HIV-positive individuals, that lobbies for their rights, including workplace discrimination, where he worked as a volunteer.

Kostopoulos also was a freelance journalist who wrote on human rights, sexual orientation, and HIV-related issues for the magazine Antivirus and the weekly left-wing newspaper Documento, 

He had also served as president of the organisation OLKE (Homosexual-Lesbian Community of Greece).

In the 2014 Athens municipal elections, he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the City Council on the P.N.OIK.A (Initiative for a New and Ecological Athens) ticket, which was backed by the Greens.

For several years before his death, Kostopoulos had performed in drag shows as Zackie Oh. The name derived from that of  Jacqueline Onassis, but his act was not an impersonation.