Greek court acquits four police officers over death of LGBT activist

A Greek court’s decision to exonerate four police officers involved in the brutal death of an LGBTQ+ activist in Athens has alarmed human rights groups, which deplored the verdict as profoundly unjust.

Two men were found guilty on Tuesday of participating in the killing of Zak Kostopoulos, but the four police officers, also accused of causing fatal bodily harm, were allowed to walk free.

Reacting to the verdict, Amnesty International’s Greek branch director, Glykeria Arapi, said: “Today’s decision is yet another example in Greece where victims of unnecessary use of force and their families are left without justice.”

Nearly four years after Kostopoulos was beaten to death in broad daylight, the activist had become a symbol of the fight for freedom and equality, the group said. “Zak Kostopoulos will not be forgotten … we take the ruthlessness of his senseless death and the injustice of today’s decision personally. In response we will redouble our efforts to make Zak’s vision – a world free from prejudice, stigma and racism – a reality.”

Anny Paparousou, a lawyer representing Kostopoulos’s family, said the ruling reflected a longstanding culture of police impunity in Greece. From the outset the case had not only exposed endemic homophobia in Greek society, but a culture of widespread abuse in the nation’s police force.

“It follows in the tradition of police violence never being punished even by our courts,” she said. “While we welcome the guilty judgments we are disappointed and opposed to the four officers being set free when we have documented evidence of their participation in the crime.”

Kostopoulos, a drag artist, columnist and prominent queer campaigner, was killed after appearing to seek refuge from unknown assailants in a jewellery shop in central Athens in September 2021. His discovery inside the store caused pandemonium: the shop’s owner and an estate agent with offices on the same street brutally set upon him.

Footage from security cameras and phones showed police violently attempting to arrest Kostopoulos as he lay dying on the ground; witnesses described the scene as being tantamount to a lynching. The 33-year-old died from his injuries before emergency workers could take him to hospital.

All six defendants were accused of inflicting fatal bodily harm. The jewellery shop owner, Spyros Dimopoulos, and estate agent, Thanassis Hortarias, were given 10-year custodial terms after the court voted, five to two, to uphold the charge – although on grounds of age, Dimopoulos, 77, will be allowed to serve the sentence at home.

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Although three of the tribunal’s members, including its presiding judge, recommended that the police officers be convicted of dangerous bodily harm, the men were acquitted by a majority of four to three.

Kostopoulos’s family had pressed for murder charges to be brought. Amnesty had described the activist’s death as “murder”.

Paparousou did not rule out appealing against the decision before Greece’s supreme court.

Late on Tuesday, thousands of supporters took to the streets demanding justice for Kostopoulos.