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‘Zak’s an icon’: the lengthy combat for justice over demise of Greek LGBT activist

Days after his demise within the coronary heart of Athens, the picture of Zak Kostopoulos began appearing throughout town centre, on buildings and nondescript workplace blocks, the marble steps of neoclassical mansions, partitions and columns.

On Gladstonos avenue there have been additionally phrases, some sprayed, some stencilled, some handwritten, however all amounting to the identical factor: a memorial to a person who dared to be totally different.

It was right here that the LGBTQ+ activist, drag artist and columnist was killed in broad daylight on 21 September 2018.

Informally renamed Zackie Oh after Kostopoulos’s alter ego, the pedestrian sidestreet is now a logo of the combat for justice in a case that has not solely uncovered profound homophobia in Greece however a tradition of “abuse and impunity” in its police pressure.

Kostopoulos, a vocal campaigner for HIV-positive individuals like himself, was 33 years outdated when he was killed in a jewelry store on Gladstonos. How he acquired trapped within the retailer stays unknown. What is obvious from video clips that later emerged of his demise is the violence that he endured.

“It was a lynching. There’s no different approach to describe it,” stated Philippos Karagiorgis, who’s seen within the footage, arms outstretched, making an attempt to cease the assault. “He was … on all fours like a child, desperately attempting to crawl by way of the shattered glass of the store’s window. Each time he tried to rise up, these two males would kick him within the head, repeatedly.”

Karagiorgis, who will testify when the case is dropped at trial, witnessed the assault after his bike ran out of gasoline and puttered to a standstill close by. “There was quite a lot of commotion, quite a lot of screaming,” stated the salesperson, talking in regards to the incident for the primary time. “What I’ll always remember was the apathy of the gang, individuals sitting there within the cafes, watching as if it was a film, when it was probably the most aggressive, inhuman factor I’ve ever seen. My soul darkened that day.”

Zak Kostopoulos. {Photograph}:

Initially, Kostopoulos was portrayed as a drug addict and thief, caught within the act by a shopkeeper who had momentarily stepped away. Media reported police being known as to arrest a “knife-wielding robber”. The store proprietor and a fellow storeowner – later revealed to be a far-right sympathiser – have been stated to be intervening to cease him.

Video footage taken by onlookers has yielded a special model of occasions, nevertheless. It exhibits Kostopoulos being hit and kicked as he tries to extricate himself from the premises. Regardless of placing up no resistance, he’s then violently apprehended by police. By the point an ambulance reaches the closest hospital, he’s pronounced lifeless.

“He’s clearly solely half alive however they cuff him from behind, making any try at resuscitation not possible,” stated Anny Paparousou, considered one of two prison attorneys representing the activist’s household. “It’s onerous to not conclude that this was a hate crime.”

Amnesty Worldwide has known as Kostopoulos’ demise “homicide” and launched a world marketing campaign. Six individuals, together with the 2 store house owners and 4 policemen, stand accused of inflicting deadly bodily hurt, a cost all deny.

Controversy and setbacks have marred the hunt for justice. From the outset, when it was reported that authorities didn’t seal the crime scene – permitting it to be cleaned – rights campaigners have spoken of a cover-up.

None of Kostopoulos’s fingerprints have been discovered on a knife – dispelling allegations he was intent on robbing the shop. As a substitute, supporters say he seems to have run into the store for refuge after an altercation outdoors. Toxicological stories confirmed Kostopoulos had no traces of medication or different substances in his physique, and a coroner discovered he had died of a number of accidents, sustained principally to his head.

“After I visited the scene the subsequent day, I requested waiters within the cafes reverse what had occurred and so they all stated: ‘He slashed his throat,’” Kostopoulos’s youthful brother, Nikos, instructed the Guardian.

“Based mostly on the post-mortem, that’s merely not true, and I preserve asking: ‘Why did they must lie?’ Zacharias was a sufferer of prejudice. He was very open, very expressive. He’d stroll down the road and infrequently individuals would hurl abuse at him. He believed in freedom. From a younger age he instructed our dad and mom: ‘That is who I’m.’ It was new to them, however they have been very supportive. My mom calls him ‘my hero’.”

The household employed Forensic Structure, the UK-based company that analyses human rights violations, to conduct its personal inquiry. Its evaluation was damning: Greek police had didn’t launch a correct investigation, overlooking very important video footage and CCTV cameras that captured the scene.

People paste posters reading ‘We won’t be silent’ on the shutters of the shop where Zak Kostopoulos was killed.
Folks paste posters studying ‘We gained’t be silent’ on the shutters of the store the place Zak Kostopoulos was killed. {Photograph}: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Pictures

Now the household needs justice so nobody has to endure the identical factor, stated Nikos Kostopoulos, referring to a choose’s resolution to indefinitely postpone what had been an eagerly awaited trial.

“I actually consider that each one the issues he was in opposition to – patriarchy, stigmatisation, stereotypes – killed my brother in the long run,” he sighed. “Zacharias was perceived as much less. What actually occurred would’ve been buried if individuals hadn’t come ahead with the movies.”

The household’s attorneys are urgent for homicide prices to be introduced. In addition they need all 9 law enforcement officials concerned in Kostopoulos’s arrest – not 4 – to be charged with murder.

“Deadly bodily hurt is insufficient if the trial is to ship the correct message,” stated Paparousou.

A ray of sunshine has appeared. A prosecutor not too long ago instructed investigators to develop the inquiry into the demise. “That raises the prospect of extra individuals being included within the prison grievance,” the lawyer added.

The trial was placed on maintain in November by a court docket citing public well being dangers, however not earlier than the sitting choose, Giorgos Kassimis, had described the listening to as “historic.” A brand new trial date is anticipated within the coming months.

For Greece’s LGBTQ+ neighborhood, Kostopoulos and his alter ego, Zackie Oh, symbolize the lengthy overdue wrestle for equality and respect.

More and more, the brutal method of his demise has drawn parallels with the deadly stabbing of the anti-fascist rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, whose homicide by the hands of a Golden Daybreak member lead to the unravelling of the neo-Nazi celebration.

“It’s the identical ideology that killed each of them,” stated Annie Papazoglou, 28, of Color Youth, a number one Athens LGBTQ+ organisation. “Homophobic assaults are nonetheless frequent right here. There’s been an enormous recruitment of law enforcement officials in central Athens and rising incidents of police violence and abuse of energy. It’s essential Zak’s murderers are convicted … to indicate nothing like it will ever be tolerated once more.”

Road artists are additionally poised to color the streets. “Zak’s an icon,” stated one who goes by the title Mitsos Kiklamanos.

Final 12 months, avenue artists with the city graffiti group Political Stencil rented a crane and painted by way of the night time in order that by dawn, the whole wall of a constructing within the downtown neighbourhood of Exarcheia bore the picture of Kostopoulos and Zackie Oh.

“That is about distinction and the dearth of tolerance for it on this society,” stated Kiklamanos, 48, an arts instructor by career. “Zak was murdered for being who he was. And that’s why his picture goes to be on partitions and columns, each floor we are able to put it on, for a really very long time.”

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