The violent death of a well known gay activist in the Greek capital of Athens has shocked the local LGBT+ community, who are now demanding justice for 33-year-old Zak Kostopoulos.
The circumstances of Kostopoulos’ death, who was born in the US but grew up in Greece, on the afternoon of September 21 are still under investigation, but edited camera footage released online and shown on television purportedly shows the man being lynched by a mob.
In the video, Kostopoulos is seen trapped inside a jewellery shop on Gladstonos Street, near the central Omonia Square. The man was holding a fire extinguisher attempting to break out of the shop’s front door as a crowd begins gathering outside—including the shop’s owner.
Failing to break free, Kostopoulos then tried to get out from the shop window, which required him to get down on his hands and knees. As he crawled through the broken glass, the shop owner and another man appear to kick him repeatedly, with a final kick to the head sending Kostopoulos lying on the pavement.
At that point, a few passersby intervened to defend Kostopoulos. According to local news reports, police were in the proximity of the incident, but failed to intervene.
The view of Kostopoulos’ body, still lying on the ground, is mostly concealed by the group of men gathering around him, some of whom can still be seen appearing to kick him. The footage ends with Kostopoulos surrounded by police and emergency workers, lying sideways on a stretcher, with his arms behind him as if handcuffed. He died before reaching a hospital.
The episode of mob violence has divided opinions in Greece, where many believe the reaction to whatever Kostopoulos did to become entrapped in the shop was disproportional, but others believe the shop owner was right to defend his property.
About 500 people took part in a rally in Kostopoulos’ memory held on Saturday (September 22) night, English-language local news outlet Neos Kosmos reported.
Local news publications initially referred to Kostopoulos as a “drug addict” who was attempting to rob the shop and was “armed with a knife,” but his friends strongly rejected that representation.
Fellow LGBT+ activist Gregory Vallianatos wrote on his Facebook page that Kostopoulos entered the shop seeking refuge from an unspecified threat he faced in a shop on the other side of the street.
Another friend of Kostopoulos, Stavros Tsioros, remembered the activist as “a great fighter for the LGBT+ community.” Kostopoulos often performed in drag under the name Zackie Oh and was outspoken about his experience of living as a HIV-positive man at panels and rallies.
“You don’t kill [someone] like that,” Tsioros added.
A coroner’s report returned no clear explanation for Kostopoulos’ death on Monday and suggested further testing is needed. The report described the man’s body as displaying several minor injuries insufficient to cause his death, CNN Greece reported.
Authorities have arrested the shop owner and opened criminal proceedings for manslaughter for his alleged participation in the lynching, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported, while the other man filmed appearing to kick Kostopoulos along with the shop owner was arrested on Monday. The shop owner is due to appear in court on Tuesday (September 25).
The lawyer representing Kostopoulos’ family, Anna Paparoussou, believes the shop owner should be charged with homicide.
“We have such clear visual material that we are all in a position to understand what happened. A man trapped in the store was prevented from coming out with the excessive use of force that led to his death,” she told local broadcaster ANT1, quoted in The Huffington Post Greece.
This article was updated to reflect the arrest of the second suspect, reported after publication, and the charge against the shop owner.