LGBT HIV activist Zak Kostopoulos murdered in Athens: campaign calls for justice
European HIV treatment activists are calling for justice after the murder of the Greek human rights activist Zak Kostopoulos in central Athens on the afternoon of Friday 21 September.
Early reports included that Zak Kostopoulos’s HIV status and sexuality were a factor in his attack and in the lack of police investigations.
The following information is compiled from a news release from the European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG).
On Friday 21 September, Zak Kostopoulos, died as a consequence of brutal beatings in Athens. Zak was an HIV positive, 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.
Timeline regarding the death of Zak Kostopoulos
The incident took place on the afternoon of Friday 21 September 2018 between 14.00 and 15.00 in the centre of Athens, near Omonoia square.
Media reports from Friday evening reported that a thief died after trying to rob a jewellery 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 22 September, it was announced that the person was Zak Kostopoulos, an LGBT, HIV activist, also performing as drag queen Zackie Oh.
Rumours started circulating in Greek 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 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.
On Sunday, one of the two persons who attacked Zak, was put under investigation and has been released under restrictive measures since then. The second person involved in the assault, a neighbouring real estate store owner with links to extreme right groups, was identified on Wednesday and was put under investigation on Friday. He has also been released under restrictive measures.
On Monday 24 September, 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 27 September, a video surfaced showing eight policemen 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 shows three people bullying Zak in the pedestrian street before he seeks refuge to the jewellery store.
Media reports, including other calls for justice and links to the online video footage are included in the reference article below.
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EATG press statement. We call on the authorities to ensure that justice for Zak Kostopoulos is done. (1 October 2018).
Yahoo news. Trial over killing of HIV activist begins in Greece. (20 October 2021).