Athens, Greece – A crowd gathered outside a court in Athens, displaying banners, signs and rainbow flags as they await the verdict of a trial in the death of queer activist Zak Kostopoulos.
Kostopoulos, also known by his drag character Zackie Oh, was beaten to death in central Athens in September 2018. After 18 court appearances, the trial ended on Tuesday.
Two men, Spyridon Dimopoulos and Athanasios Chortarias, were found guilty of causing fatal bodily harm and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Four police officers who had been charged with fatal bodily harm were acquitted on all counts.
“This trial is a testament to how easily the system denies our lives and their value,” said Alexandra Panagiotakopoulou, 28, an out-of-court activist. “Essentially the message they will give at the end is that they can kill us, and there will be no consequences for that. That the system doesn’t see us as people.
Zak Kostopoulos was known across Greece for breaking taboos by speaking out about his HIV status, drug history and sex positivity. But he was best known for his infectious performances as drag queen Zackie Oh, often performing with a smirk on his face.
On the afternoon of September 21, 2018, Kostopoulos, for reasons that remain unclear, found himself locked in a jewelry store in central Athens.
Video of the incident shows him panicking and trying to get out through a broken window as two men, the jewelry store owner and a local real estate agent, repeatedly kick him as the police watch. passers-by. Several police officers arrived at the scene, handcuffed the bloodied Kostopoulos and continued to kick him. Kostopoulos died in an ambulance shortly afterwards.
In the days following the murder, video footage of the incident was shown on Greek television, with stations initially reporting that Kostopoulos attempted to rob the jewelry store and died of a drug overdose. An autopsy later concluded that Kostopolos died from an ischemic stroke directly caused by his injuries.
Throughout the trial, the defense argued that it was possible he did not die from the beatings, arguing that he may have drunk too much the night before, taken too much ibuprofen or had may have been affected due to his HIV status – all of which were rejected by the medical examiner.
The police defense argued that the officers acted correctly and arrested Kostopoulos as necessary, and did not contribute to his death.
The Kostopoulos family and their lawyer have asked the prosecutor to increase the charges against all defendants, ranging from fatal bodily harm to murder, and to consider the possibility that there was a homophobic or other discriminatory motive behind the ‘offensive. None of these requests were accepted.
“The accusation was not legally correct,” said Anny Paparousou, the family’s lawyer. “We had no homicide charges from the start.
But Paparousou’s biggest concern with the court’s decision was the lack of accountability of the police officers involved. She argued that the police treated Kostopoulos in the most violent way possible, fully aware of his injuries.
“[This decision] leaves the police unpunished, and that’s a problem because in this way it gives all the power to the police to treat any citizen the way they want, whatever the situation they are in” , she said.
Rights group Amnesty International has reported that there is a culture of abuse and impunity within the Greek police.
“It beggars belief that despite footage showing police officers using unnecessary force to arrest Zak as he lay dying on the ground, no officer has yet been held accountable,” said Glykeria Arapi, director of Amnesty International Greece in a statement regarding the decision. “Today’s decision is another example in Greece where victims of unnecessary use of force and their families are left without justice.
Gay activists across Greece have spent three years demanding ‘Justice for Zak/Zackie’ – in protests, talks, graffiti, posters, art exhibitions, pamphlets and Athens drag shows to the islands.
But the verdict left many accusing Greece’s justice system and society of unequal standards regarding the killing of a queer person.
“They don’t see our lives as valuable,” Panagiotakopoulou said, “Unfortunately something like this had to happen for some people to wake up.”
Myrto Tsilimpounidi, co-director of the Athens Autonomous Feminist Research Center, pointed to the riots that broke out after the police murder of teenager Alexis Grigoropoulos in 2008.
“The last time a cop faced legal consequences for killing a civilian, Athens burned for 21 days. Of course, Alexis was a straight, upper-class Greek teenager,” she said.
On the evening the ruling was handed down, a protest of more than 1,000 people forged through central Athens, to the pedestrian street where Kostopoulos was killed. Over the past three years, dozens of protests have also ended under the repeatedly repainted street sign, renamed: “Zackie Oh Road.”
“On the one hand, I was devastated, extremely angry, shocked and very sad about the verdict,” said Importasou, an activist with the Justice for Zak/Zackie movement and friend of Kostopoulos, who asked to be nominated only by his chosen one. Name.
“But when I arrived and saw all these people, all this crowd with bright colors on their faces […] I was crying, I said ‘we’re here, we’re not going back, we’re going to fight, and everyone should know Zackie is going to be here.'”