On Friday 21 September, Zak Kostopoulos, died as a consequence of brutal beatings in Athens Greece. Zak was an HIV+, sex positive, queer, human rights’ activist and defender, also raising awareness performing as drag queen Zackie Oh.
We are mourning him, shocked at the lynching that led to his death, the way in which the police officers acted and the public discourse that was constructed and spread to legitimise the violence perpetrated. We have been dismayed at the way in which the investigation has been carried out by Greek authorities.
The footage of the attack indicate that Zak was inflicted inhuman and degrading treatment that amounts to torture. We call all relevant Greek authorities for a swift, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the events so that the perpetrators of the violence are brought to justice. The examination ought to take into consideration the motivation of the perpetrators.
We ask for due process and respect for the deceased, who if he were living would be presumed innocent. We call on the authorities to ensure the rule of law and respect for human life so that similar tragic events are not allowed to occur again.
See below for a timeline of events and links to relevant materials.
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A timeline regarding the death of Zak Kostopoulos
The incident took place on Friday 21.9.2018 between 14.00 and 15.00 in the centre of Athens, near Omonoia square.
From Friday night media reported that a thief died after trying to rob in a jewelry store. A video surfaced that shows the alleged thief to be beaten up by two unidentified persons while trying to escape the store. On Saturday, it was announced that the person was Zak Kostopoulos, an LGTBI, HIV activist, also performing as drag queen Zackie Oh.
Rumours started circulating in Greek media about the person being under the influence of substances, carrying a knife, entering the shop to rob. Mainstream media constructed the narrative of a junkie trying to break in and steal. Fringe media also referring to as faggot, AIDS-patient, ‘he was asking for it’, ‘it served him right’.
This is when LGBTI, drag queen groups, community lawyers and civil society actors started to openly question the version provided by media. On Sunday, it was claimed that Zak Kostopoulos had entered the shop to escape a fight at the café nearby by where he was.
A discussion that remains low in media priorities: the brutal beating up of a person which amounts to inhumane, degrading treatment and torture as well as self-justice is unacceptable. This discussion is mainly put forth by community and citizens in social media. There is an uproar for media -both mainstream and fringe- publishing polls moralizing self-justice and the right for property over the right for life.
There is also a discussion about the fact that the store owner -later identified as one of the person that assaulted- cleans up the broken glass from the pavement, actually counterfeiting the crime scene.
On Sunday, one of the two persons who beat up Zak, was put under investigation and has been released under restrictive measures since then. The second assaulter, a neighbouring real estate store owner with links to extreme right groups, was identified on Wednesday and was put under investigation on Friday. He was released under restrictive measures as well.
On Monday, the coroners reported that the first autopsy was inconclusive regarding the cause of the death and that toxicological and histological examination results will be available later.
On Thursday, a video surfaced showing 8 police men holding Zak down to handcuff him exerting excessive violence. The events in this video follow chronologically those from the first one. The Minister of Citizen Protection -in charge of the police- stated that they will investigate the case thoroughly.
On Friday, investigation concluded that there were no fingerprints in a knife that allegedly Zak was carrying. Media reported that a knife was found outside the store and it was thrown in the store after by an unknown person. A witness claimed that it was a food knife that Zak found from the café opposite and used to protect himself while he was held down.
On Wednesday 3 October a third video surfaced. This video comes from the CCTV of a store nearby. The events chronologically precede those of the previous videos. It depicts 3 persons bullying Zak in the pedestrian street before he seeks refuge to the jewelry store.
On Tuesday 16 October the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court (Arios Pagos), Xeni Demetriou asked for an investigation on the possibility of racist motives behind the death of Zak.
On Wednesday 17 October civil society organisations appealed to the Greek Ombudsman’s mechanism for the investigation of incidents of arbitrary conduct in security forces.
One month after the death of Zak, his mother Eleni Kostopoulou sends a letter to the Greek PM asking for the just punishment of the people that assassinated her child.
On Tuesday 30 October, in response to Zak’s mother letter, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stated his commitment:’I am in total agreement with your call for a thorough investigation. Zak’s loss will not be forgotten, at least from all of us who remain dedicated to the fight for societies where human life is the utmost value’
On Monday 19 November, the toxicological examination report was published, concluding that Zak was not intoxicated.
On Tuesday 20 November, the forensic report was published, confirming that Zak died of acute infraction resulting from multiple injuries.
On Wednesday 12 December the 4 policepersons were released without any restricting order
Amnesty International started an international action/petition demanding justice for Zak.
On 27 December the conclusions of the formal administrative inquiry recommended that the 8 police officers involved should be withdrawn from their offices.
Forensic Architecture submits a report to the Greek state investigator. That video investigates the presence of a specific witness – ‘the man in the yellow t-shirt’ – and leads to the extension of the official investigation into Kostopoulos’ killing, which was previously considered to be complete.
Greek investigators were conducting a second round of interviews with key witnesses in an attempt to identify ‘the man in the yellow t-shirt’.
Forensic Architecture submits a second report to the Greek state’s investigators, which analysed and systematised the available video evidence, both from the court files and in the public domain.
Based on that footage, they identified an additional twelve cameras that were either recording or present at the scene. This footage, currently in the possession of civilians but apparently ignored by the police, could contain crucial information for the investigation.
You can watch a video by FA here.
An account by Eleni Kostopoulos, Zak’s mother: My Gay Son Was Kicked To Death, And I’m Still Seeking Justice
The two men who killed Zak are free. They are at home with their families and get go on with their lives. Yet me and my family can only see Zak at his grave, or in our dreams.
Greek Civil Society:
Journalists and Photojournalists:
Last updated: 27.12.2018
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You can download an earlier draft of the timeline in German here