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MEPs discuss Mojahedine-E Khalq (MEK) Threat in #Albania

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Experts and political representatives from Albania were in the European Parliament on Tuesday 10th April, asking Europe for help in preventing the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) from toxifying their country’s internal and foreign relations. MEPs Ana Gomes and Patricia Lalonde hosted a round-table meeting titled ‘Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) threat in Albania’ to discuss the problem.

Participants included a UNHCR representative, Albanian opposition politicians, representatives from the Albanian embassy, the Albanian Delegation in parliament, from EU security, and reporters from various media.

MEPs Ana Gomes and Patricia Lalonde

Ms Gomes told delegates that she organised the debate because EU relations with Iran are very important, especially with the JCPOA agreement, and for human rights. This is a very different approach from the MEK which advocates regime change from outside the country.

Gomes explained that she first got to know the MEK from its recent time in Iraq where the group had interfered detrimentally in Iraq’s internal affairs. Based on her experience as a former diplomat in the UN Security Council and the UN Commission on Human Rights she was asked to write a report on Iraq in 2007-8. She found the MEK held hostage Iraq’s political relations. Even a visiting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for George W Bush agreed that MEK was a dangerous organisation.

Gomes mentioned that as head of UNAMI, Martin Kobler tried to work out a solution in Iraq, but was “miserably” attacked by MEK. He found he could not get access to the members to find out what they wanted as individuals. MEK would not allow the normal interviews that the UNHCR conduct.

MEK has new sources of funding after Saddam Hussein and is active in the EUP. Several colleagues tried to prevent today’s meeting. The MEK seem to have free rein in parliament to lobby every day. I am trying to find out by asking the EUP president, which MEPs are providing them access.

Before introducing the speakers, MS Gomes told delegates that when she hosted Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, she asked her if the MEK are a genuine opposition group. Ebadi was very clear that this group has no credibility among Iranians.

Speakers:

Nicola Pedde, Rome based Institute for Global Studies

Nicola Pedde, Rome based Institute for Global Studies, provided background context to Albania’s dilemma by describing how he had successfully intervened in Italy to put a stop to the MEK’s deceptive campaigns to corrupt politicians and toxify Italy’s political debate on Iran with their fake information and unwanted regime change agenda.

When the MEK and Maryam Rajavi had free access to the Italian parliament, invited by various government agencies, they gathered signatures from around 70% of MPs. But after interviewing these members it was found that most MPs did not remember signing or what they signed for. Only five members deliberately supported the MEK. There was misuse of members’ ignorance on Iran issues. Such letters were used to increase the MEK’s infiltration inside institutions where they could toxify the bilateral relations and debate between the Italian Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Now Italy has strong relations with Iran, not only economic but political level too.

This toxification was to make businesses and politicians believe that any dealings with Iran will be risky or even bring up conflict. This affected parliament and the media. Since the MEK arrived in Albania it is clear they are trying to exactly replicate the methods there. They are approaching MPs, media and opinion makers, everyone who has a role in influencing the political and social debate in Albania. It is a very small country with economic and security problems. Risking involvement in something against the national interest. Two years ago, few Albanians even knew the name of the group. Now there is the capacity of influencing parliament with information which is produced in a way to derail the interests of the country toward the Iranian government.

We have a camp and a huge amount of people who can be active in the country. They can affect the capacity of the government to stand by its own decisions.

In our experience. One of the questions about this group is ‘What is its final aim’? There is no future for them in Iran, they have no capacity to reach the Iranian population. No capacity to play a role bigger than the one they play today. It is merely about maintaining the status quo. In order to keep power, money and relevance but without escalating it to the point of it actually changing the debate on Iran. That would be too risky for them and expose the fact there is no place for them in the future of Iran. Their influence is unprecedented in Europe, with their cultish approach. Their ability to toxify the debate is increasing in the current atmosphere. The Albanian experience is another aspect of the ability of Europe in dealing with the group.

 

Olsi Jazexhi, Director of the Free Media Institute in Tirana

Olsi Jazexhi, Director of the Free Media Institute in Tirana

MEK arrived in Albania under a secret agreement with US and Albanian government. They began to recruit politicians, musicians, students, members of civil society, activists, even Leftists and Communists and paid them come to their events. The MEK rented accommodation from one of the mafia gangs.

When some MEK began to desert the group because they do not believe in the MEK’s jihad any more, I and my wife, who is a lawyer, tried to help them. Albanian people are afraid of jihadi violence and they don’t want them in their country. The irony is that the Albanian government prosecutes those who want to join the jihad in Syria but does nothing to curtail the MEK, which is something the media have queried. Another issue is that refugees from other countries have shown that they want to integrate into Albanian society. The MEK do not want to integrate. They have come as a terrorist organisation and will commit acts of terrorism in the future. They live in a paramilitary camp and their leader Maryam Rajavi every day breaks the law of Albania by calling for jihad against a foreign country. This has resulted in Sunni leaders asking, if MEK can pursue jihad, why can’t we?

Another problem is the blackmailing of Albanian media. When Anne Khodabandeh had media interviews about who the MEK are, the MEK approached the media and told them, we are the MEK and you must not broadcast these interviews. This is outrageous because we have full freedom of speech in Albania. When Top Channel broadcast interviews with former MEK who said they wanted help from the UNHCR and Albanian government to deradicalize, the MEK accused Albania’s biggest TV station of being bought by Iran. But the MEK never accept to debate with anyone.

The MEK create fake news and information and distribute it to Albanian media. They created a campaign to say that because we are talking in the EUP today this has created the risk of a terrorist attack against the MEK in Albania.

The MEK are also attacking intellectuals. Albania is a country of religious tolerance. The MEK sent anti-terrorist police to break up a New Year celebration and arrest two veteran Iranian journalists and accuse them of terrorism. This shameful incident ended only after intervention by the president.

EU parliament, which has a lot of influence in Albania, should ask the Albanian government to demand the MEK abandon their violent jihad, to integrate into our society and to accept the values of democracy. The MEK must end the intimidation, calls for terrorism, lies and misinformation and fake news in Albania. They must dismantle their paramilitary organisation. And if Maryam Rajavi and those like Struan Stevenson disagree with us, they should deal with us in a democratic way. They must come and debate with us. I ask you as Europeans to put the utmost pressure on the Albanian government to save us from this very strange terrorist organisation.

 

Migena Balla, Lawyer B&B Stutio Legale in Tirana

Migena Balla, Lawyer B&B Stutio Legale in Tirana

Describes how she has tried to help those MEK who have left the organisation to establish a new life for themselves. We contacted the UNHCR and other agencies who could help but it was very difficult. We asked Geneva for help for these people who have no legal status or economic support in Albania. We finally got an interview with the director of the UNHCR in Albania. He first said we cannot do anything, only offer them food and shelter for six months. He could not say what should happen to them after six months. He confirmed that the Albanian government does not give legal status to these people. The UNHCR is still reluctant to deal with these people.

Instead, the former members’ families are helping them. Those who have families with money are supported, but those without this support are even sleeping in the streets. The MEK are paying some of them but they have no bank accounts, so they get this in cash. It is not clear how this money is arriving in Albania for the MEK.

The MEK have full control over their own members. If they try to contact their families, they will be ejected from the group. Anyone who speaks about them is accused of being agents of the Iranians. Why is nobody objecting? You are not Albanian, but you come to my country and accuse me of being an agent of Iran. I don’t care about Iran, but I do care what happens in my country of Albania. This MEK activity of threatening jihad against Iran, including Americans like Rudi Giuliani who come and clearly threaten Iran. The MEK is performing illegal activity in Albania which wants to be an EU member.

How can the MEK bring democracy to Iran when they do not have any democracy inside themselves? The MEK are not free to move around, get a job or have a family. My government cannot provide them with a civil life because they have no legal status or work permit. They were brought to Albania only with a piece of paper. They are being forced to stay with the group against their will. Their movements and activities are strictly controlled by the MEK. This is like a prison happening right in front of our eyes. Every day they are training, they go running. How can I believe this is not a military group in training?

One of the relatives who came to Albania to make contact with one of his family in MEK was arrested by the police. This is helping the MEK because it makes people afraid.

 

Anne Khodabandeh, Open Minds, De-Radicalisation Consultant

Anne Khodabandeh, Open Minds, De-Radicalisation Consultant

Starting with an explanation of the state of MEK graves, both in Albania and Iraq, the presentation highlighted the unaccountability of the MEK. In Iraq, many of the hundreds of graves were found to be fake, the contents did not correspond with the stones, some had no bodies, others had two or three. The official numbers of MEK who have arrived in Albania are also vague and imprecise. The US detained 3800 in 2003. After ten years of attrition due to dissociation, conflict, deaths by natural causes, suicides and murder, the UNHCR brought a total of 2901 individuals to Albania in September 2016. By the end of the year this number reduced to 2745.

A police report which quoted this figure also tried to account for the membership. But the numbers do not add up. These discrepancies demonstrate that we don’t know how many there are. By this account there are certainly fewer than 2500 loyal MEK members. Most of these have now been taken to the closed camp Ashraf Three to which we have no access. These numbers matter because we don’t actually know who they are. So, Senator Robert Torricelli, a MEK supporter, claims there are 4,000 MEK in Camp Ashraf Three. Where did they come from?

The police evaluated the MEK as deeply indoctrinated and having taken part in war and trained for terrorism. They know the group is dangerous but cannot keep track of them. Due to the work of investigative journalist Gjergji Thanasi we know the MEK’s activities in Albania are illegal. They do not have permits or pay taxes. He also discovered that America plans to bring more jihadis to Albania, this time the widows and orphans of killed Daesh members.

Journalists who filmed the new camp were not allowed near. Even Albanian authorities, including the police and security services are not allowed inside the camp without MEK permission and escorts. The UNHCR cannot go in and check on the state of the people there. Thanasi also discovered through planning permission permits issued by the Land Registry that Camp Ashraf Three is to have three-and-a-half-meter perimeter walls with guard turrets, a small-arms shooting range and reinforced concrete armoury, as well as a helipad. Things consistent with a military training camp.

It is also not possible for MEK members to leave the camp without permission or escort. They are essentially trapped in there. The people in the camp are living in conditions of modern slavery, like MEK everywhere. This means that the people who come to the European Parliament are actual slaves. We are familiar with the idea of sex slaves or cannabis farm slaves, but these are a genre of political slaves. They don’t get paid, they don’t have rights, like holidays, pensions, healthcare. No family relations are allowed. In fact, you can say that every single right in the UN Declaration of Human Rights is denied to them.

We know that most MEK members would like to leave and would do so if they had somewhere to go. The Albanian government doesn’t support them. UNHCR support is very limited. The UN International Organization for Migration says it is not responsible for them, even though they are foreign nationals brought from a second country to a third country.

The MEK leaders keep them in the camp through imprisonment, coercion and psychological manipulation. Why keep these people if they are so much trouble? The reason must be that two thousand people provide cover for around fifty highly radicalized members who are trained and willing to die and kill to order. The trouble is that, as has been shown, we don’t know exactly who they are because none of the residents have any recorded identity or legal status in the country.

The MEK’s raison d'être is terrorism, violent regime change. That’s what they are there for.

Maryam Rajavi can do as she likes, have people killed, send them here there and everywhere. But in the bigger world, in Albania and in Europe, who is responsible for them? Whatever they do, who must answer for them?

MEP Patricia Lalonde made the closing remarks.

The MEK presence in the EU parliament is very disturbing because of its history of interference in the internal affairs of Iraq. This is also happening in Europe. In France the failure to curtail the MEK in politics has resulted in problems in French and Iranian relations. The MEK must not be allowed to interfere in politics or economic relations.

She told delegates that in 1998 as an MP in the French parliament she had found some sympathy for the MEK cause as a feminist. When she attended an MEK rally she was told how to walk and where to stand and it felt like being in a cult, like in ‘1984’. She cut all contact with the MEK. However, when she was elected as an MEP a year ago, Lalonde was shocked that the first thing to greet her, stuffed under her door, was paper to sign for the MEK. ‘I said, “Oh my God! Are they still alive”.’ It is not acceptable that they are interfering in parliament.

 

 

 

coronavirus

Success for 1 Million Genome Stakeholder Co-ordination Framework meeting, Health Union takes shape, second wave hits Italy and Germany

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Welcome, colleagues, to the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update, as we assess the success of its recent meeting yesterday (21 October), and how it ties in to the new Commission’s efforts towards “a healthy planet and a new digital world”, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

1 Million Genome

The Beyond 1 Million Genome meeting yesterday (21 October) was very successful, with more than 220 participants, and one of the core aims of the 1 Million Genome Stakeholder Coordination Framework initiative is to support the connection, through stakeholder alignment and implementation, of national genomics and data infrastructures, co-ordinate the harmonization of the ethical and legal framework for sharing data of high privacy sensitivity, and give practical guidance for the pan-European co-ordination of implementing genomic technologies in national and European health-care systems. 

Now, at the close of 2020s, wide-ranging changes are under way in European society and governance, with a European Commission working on an European Health Data governance framework, an European Parliament active on funding allocation for healthcare issue, and a growing conviction among Europe’s policymakers that people must be at the centre of any successful and sustainable strategy to drive forward health care. 

The ambition of new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is a Europe that ‘must lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world’. Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides acknowledges: “European citizens expect the peace of mind that comes with access to health care… and protection against epidemics and diseases.”

This discussion yesterday of personalised healthcare depicts a Europe where many chances for improvement are not yet fully being taken up. But this is not merely a catalogue of deficiencies. The variations and inefficiencies it presents are an argument for triggering radical rethinking, and for making the most of personalised healthcare. It highlights the endorsement of incentives, innovation, and investment by a new breed of Europe’s leaders that stakeholders can support translation through implementation in health-care systems.

Some meeting recommendations

In yesterday’s meeting, it was felt that secure and authorized cross-border access to genomic and other health data in the European Union is necessary to:

  • Improve patient outcomes and ensure sustainability of health and care provision in the EU;

  • learn to identify and treat cancer at a much earlier stage;

  • advance the understanding of genetic associations that cause or predispose common complex diseases;

  • strengthen the effectiveness of prevention by improving the screening accuracy and reducing its costs.

A more detailed report will follow in November. 

European Health Union en route

To fill gaps exposed by COVID-19 and ensure that health systems can face future threats to public health, an ambitious EU health programme is needed, say MEPs, who want to raise the budget for the programme to €9.4 billion, as originally proposed by the Commission, to enhance health promotion and make health systems more resilient across the EU. COVID-19 has shown that the EU is in urgent need of an ambitious EU health programme to ensure that European health systems can face future health threats. 

Gateway’ arrives just in time for second wave

Italy, Germany and Ireland, all of whom are currently suffering from the second wave of coronavirus, became the first countries to join up their local national COVID-19 apps to a European Commission-backed gateway, which will allow national health services to share data between themselves. 

Is coronavirus undermining German democracy? 

A heated debate is under way over who should decide on COVID-19 regulations in Germany. Critics argue that Chancellor Angela Merkel and the state premiers are bypassing parliament in their bid to fight the pandemic. Repeatedly Chancellor Merkel met with all 16 premiers of Germany's powerful federal states to decide on measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic. After the latest one, last week, politicians across the spectrum began complaining that, for months now, such measures were all decided behind closed doors and without due parliamentary debate or consultation. 

Among the most vehement critics of this apparent marginalization of parliament is Florian Post, a member of the Bundestag and legal affairs expert with the Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partners in Angela Merkel's coalition government. "For nearly nine months now, regulations have been put in place by local, regional and central authorities which are restricting people's freedoms in a manner unprecedented in post-war Germany," he told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper. "And not even once has an elected parliament been called on to vote on the measures," he complained.

Health passport’ set to fly in

A new digital health passport is to be piloted by a small number of passengers flying from the UK to the US for the first time under plans for a global framework for Covid-safe air travel. The CommonPass system, backed by the World Economic Forum (WEF), is designed to create a common international standard for passengers to demonstrate they do not have coronavirus. However, critics of similar schemes point to concerns over the sensitivity and specificity of the tests in various countries amid fears over greater monitoring over people’s movements.

French run out of flu jabs

The annual flu vaccination campaign in France was only launched last week, yet already pharmacies across the country have sold out of doses. Desperate to avoid hospitals facing the combined pressure of flu patients and Covid-19 patients this winter, the French government launched a greatly expanded flu vaccination programme this year, urging anyone in a risk group to get vaccinated as soon as possible. 

But demand has far outstripped what the government anticipated, and just a week after the campaign was launched on 13 October, pharmacies across the country are declaring rupture de stock (sold out) of vaccines. Around 60% of pharmacies are reporting shortages of the flu vaccine. Gilles Bonnefond, president of the pharmacists union l' Union des syndicats de pharmaciens d'officine (USPO) told France Info: "We have already vaccinated nearly five million people in less than five days. "This is almost half of what was done all last year during the entire vaccination campaign."

President Sassoli seeks prolongation of working methods

European Parliament President David Sassoli says the Parliament has “worked to ensure…that it can continue to perform its core functions”, suggesting a possible prolongation of pandemic working methods. “This is a clear example of how Parliament is adapting and fulfilling its role under even the most challenging circumstances,” Sassoli said.

Coronavirus second wave brings EU summit

European Union leaders will hold a video-conference next week to discuss how to better cooperate against the COVID-19 pandemic as infections rise, European Council President Charles Michel said on Wednesday (21 October). 

The video-summit, to be held on 29 October, will be the first of a series of regular discussions that EU leaders have committed to hold to tackle the pandemic at a time when most of the member countries report alarming figures confirming a second wave. “We need to strengthen our collective effort to fight COVID-19,” Michel said on Twitter. 

The discussion, due to start in the late afternoon, will take place a day after the Commission is expected to announce new plans to strengthen coordination among EU states on testing strategies, contact tracing and quarantine length, officials told Reuters. The EU’s 27 nations fought COVID-19 with different, sometimes contrasting measures, in the first months of the pandemic. The tighter co-ordination is expected to prevent a repeat of the divisions seen after the first wave. 

And that is everything from EAPM for now – do stay safe, enjoy the end of your week, and the weekend.

-- 

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Belgium

Coronavirus likely to affect Belgium Poppy Remembrance appeal

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It is feared that the health pandemic could affect this year's Remembrance Sunday commemorations in Belgium. The coronavirus crisis is likely to have a financial impact on the local Poppy Appeal, given that it is feared the public may well be cautious about the risks of touching collection tins and the poppies themselves. 

Even so, the Legion's Brussels branch plans to go ahead with holding a social distanced/masked ceremony at Heverlee Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Leuven on 8 November (11am).

This will be in the presence of British Ambassador Martin Shearman, UK Ambassador to NATO Dame Sarah Macintosh, as well as top brass from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, and Belgium.

Belgian rules currently allow for the event to proceed.

The Brussels branch, which celebrates its centenary in 2022, will be represented by Zoe White MBE (pictured), a former major in the British Army and the first female chair in its history.

White joined the international staff at NATO HQ in Brussels as an executive officer in 2017. She said she moved to NATO "to develop my political knowledge of defence and security matters and, most importantly, to continue to serve in an organization whose ethos and values I truly believe in."

She entered the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2000, after a short stint in her home unit, the Royal Gibraltar Regiment. She was commissioned into the Royal Signals and served in the Army for 17 years.

White has considerable operational experience. She deployed to Kosovo on Op Agricola, Iraq on Op Telic (three times), Afghanistan on Op Herrick (three times) and Northern Ireland on Op Banner (for two years).

She specialized in providing lifesaving measures to counter radio controlled explosive devices and was awarded the MBE for her work in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.

During her last nine-month operational tour of Afghanistan she was embedded with the US Marine Corps and among other tasks, was responsible for mentoring and training the communications directors across the local uniformed services (Army, Police, Border Patrol) in Helmand - a role, she says, that taught her much about the value of authentic dialogue (and left her with a love of cardamom tea and dates).

Looking back at her military career, she says: "I was privileged to command soldiers who were technical experts and absolute forces of nature. It was a joy to serve with them."

A self-confessed "defence geek", Zoe studied Battlespace Technology at Cranfield University where she expanded her knowledge of heavy armour and "exquisite" weaponry.  She is currently studying for an MBA in her spare time.

Zoe, whose husband David is also a retired Royal Signals officer ,was elected Chair of the Brussels branch of the Royal British Legion in September 2020, succeeding Commodore Darren Bone RN. She is the first female chair of the branch since its launch in 1922.

The Prince of Wales and future King Edward VIII met founding members of the branch in June 1922.

White adds, “I am delighted to take custody of the Branch chair role. It is both a way to meaningfully continue my service to veterans and those still serving, and to continue the tradition of Remembrance in a country where so many made the ultimate sacrifice for the lives we live today.”

Branch website & contact details. 

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Anti-semitism

Greek court orders jail for neo-Nazi leaders

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A Greek court today (22 October) ordered neo-Nazi Golden Dawn chief Nikos Michaloliakos and his former top aides to begin immediately serving prison sentences, capping one of the most significant trials in the country's political history, writes Erika Vallianou.

Following the ruling, warrants are to be issued for the immediate arrest of Michaloliakos and several former party lawmakers, the court said.

Several of those convicted including some lawmakers have already turned themselves in, state television ERT said.

Michaloliakos and other former members of his inner circle were sentenced two weeks ago to more than 13 years in prison for running a criminal organization after a five-year trial.

Michaloliakos, a long-term Hitler admirer and Holocaust denier, has rejected his party's prosecution as a political witch hunt.

He remained defiant Thursday after the court ordered his imprisonment.

"I'm proud to be taken to jail for my ideas...we will be vindicated by history and by the Greek people," he told reporters outside his home in an affluent northern Athens suburb.

"I thank the hundreds of thousands of Greeks who stood by Golden Dawn all these years," said the 62-year-old mathematician and former protege of Greek dictator Georgios Papadopoulos.

Those going to jail include deputy Golden Dawn leader Christos Pappas and the party's former spokesman Ilias Kassidiaris, who recently formed a new nationalist party.

But the ruling cannot be immediately enforced in the case of former Golden Dawn lawmaker Ioannis Lagos, who was elected to the European parliament in 2019 and has immunity.

Greek judicial authorities must formally request that Lagos' immunity be lifted by the European parliament before he can be imprisoned.

The court had issued guilty verdicts to Michaloliakos and over 50 other defendants, including his wife, on October 7.

But the conclusion was delayed by a number of legal disputes, including last week when Lagos tried to have the court's three judges recused for bias.

The head judge Maria Lepenioti on Monday also publicly questioned the state prosecutor's demand that most of the convicted be provisionally released pending appeals trials, which could take years to adjudicate.

Modelled on Nazi party

The court has accepted that Golden Dawn was a criminal organization run by Michaloliakos using a military-style hierarchy modelled on Hitler's Nazi party.

The probe was sparked by the 2013 murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, who was ambushed by Golden Dawn members and fatally stabbed.

Fyssas' murderer, former truck driver Yiorgos Roupakias, has been handed a life sentence.

In a lengthy investigation, pre-trial magistrates outlined how the group formed black-clad militia to intimidate and beat up opponents with knuckle dusters, crowbars and knives.

A search of party members' homes in 2013 uncovered firearms and other weapons, as well as Nazi memorabilia.

Another former Golden Dawn organiser, former death metal bassist Georgios Germenis who is now an assistant for Lagos at the European parliament, on Thursday said his conviction was "absurd" and politically motivated.

"I am 100% innocent. I was just helping people," Germenis said as he turned himself in at his local police station.

For Michaloliakos, the sentence caps a stunning downfall for a man whose party was the country's third most popular in 2015, the year the trial began.

The party won 18 seats in parliament in 2012 after tapping into anti-austerity and anti-migrant anger during Greece's decade-long debt crisis.

It failed to win a single seat in last year's parliamentary election.

Michaloliakos and other former Golden Dawn lawmakers had already spent several months in prison after Fyssas' murder in 2013.

Time served in pre-trial detention will be deducted from the overall sentence.

Under Greek law, they must serve at least two-fifths of their sentence before requesting an early release.

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