Greek court sentences two men over death of HIV activist

A Greek court on Tuesday sentenced two men to 10 years in jail for the brutal killing of a prominent Greek-American HIV activist in Athens nearly four years ago.

Zacharias Kostopoulos, 33, died on September 21, 2018, after he was kicked by the owner of a jewellery shop and a passer-by who was an estate agent.

Kostopoulos, who went by his artistic name “Zak / Zackie Oh”, was an HIV-positive drag queen and advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ community and HIV-positive people.

The court convicted the jewellery shop owner, who is 77, and the 59-year-old estate agent of “fatal bodily harm”, a judicial source said. The maximum sentence for the crime under Greek law is 10 years.

The older man will serve his sentence at home under surveillance because of his age, while the other man will be taken to jail, the source said.

Kostopoulos found himself locked inside the shop for reasons that remain unclear but video footage posted online showed the activist trying to run away before collapsing and being handcuffed by police. 

He was later declared dead at a local hospital.

The court in Athens acquitted four police officers who had also been charged with “fatal bodily harm”.

Their acquittal provoked angry reactions from human rights defenders in the courtroom, the judicial source said.

“A disgrace!” some shouted after the judge announced the verdict, and protesters rallied outside the courthouse in Athens, calling Kostopoulos’ death “an assassination”.

The trial began in October 2020 but was delayed due to procedural issues related to anti-coronavirus measures.

Amnesty International previously denounced the “lynching” and “murder” of Kostopoulos and criticised the violence of the police arrest.

The Greek LGBTQ community described the killing as a “hate crime”.

Homophobic attacks are not uncommon in Greece where the powerful Greek Orthodox Church officially disapproves of homosexual relations.

The civil union of same-sex couples was only approved by the Greek parliament in 2015.