The civil society in Athens is mourning the death of a well-known LGBTQI activist and HIV-positive human rights advocate who was lynched in the centre of Athens on Friday, after allegedly attempting to rob a jewellery store.
The incident took place in broad daylight on Gladstonos Street near Omonia Square. It was initially reported as an attempted robbery that got out of hand, as the victim, Zak Kostopoulos, allegedly entered the store, which was empty, after the owner left his post briefly to go to a nearby kiosk, armed with a knife.
The scene that unfolded after the owner was alerted and returned to his store was captured on video from a building across the street. It shows Kostopoulos in a visible state of distress, realising that the door was locked behind him and that he was trapped. In the footage he attempts to break the street-level display window on the storefront with a fire extinguisher.
At the same time, two men, one of whom appears to be the owner, are then seen in the video kicking the same window and attacking the alleged thief, repeatedly kicking him in the head as he crawls through the broken glass out onto the street.
Around a dozen people are also seen gathering around the man on the ground, some still hitting and stomping on him, until another individual steps in to defend him.
Another video that surfaced during the weekend, shows the 33-year-old man – who was initially described as being in his 20s and a drug addict – minutes after receiving first aid, trying to escape further beating perpetrated jointly by civilians with policemen at the site.
Minutes later, he reportedly died on the way to hospital as a result of his injuries.
The official report on the cause of his death was expected to come out today.
The store owner has been arrested for deadly heavy body damage. Meanwhile the second man seen in the video kicking Kostopoulos is still wanted. No charges have been pressed on any of the police officers so far.
The store owner’s lawyer said that his client had no intention of causing bodily harm, but was incensed because he had been victim of robbery many times in the past.
However, his version of events is highly disputed, as some reports say that the store was a pawn shop. LGBTQI activist Gregoris Vallianatos posted on Facebook that the victim was actually looking for shelter in the store, as he had been sitting at a nearby cafe when a brawl erupted. Joining his voice to that of other human rights advocates, he said that legal action should be expected soon, as some say that the initial reports were wrong and that the incident was a hate crime.
One of the questions that has arisen is why the police officers, who were present at the scene according to several eye-witnesses, did not intervene in time – and particularly why they continued to beat Kostopoulos, after he had been handcuffed.
A well-known figure among the LGBTQI community, Kostopoulos was an activist for both gender-related issues, as well as for the HIV-positive community, raising awareness for people living with HIV. He had been active through Positive Voice, the HIV-positive association of Greece (which works with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation). He was also a popular drag show artist, performing under the moniker Zackie Oh.
A protest rally in his memory was held in Athens on Saturday night, with the participation of about 500 people.