December 30, 2019
A British teenager has been found guilty of lying about being gang-raped while on holiday in the Cypriot resort of Ayia Napa, in a case that has raised questions about the island's treatment of victims of sexual assault.
British teenager found guilty of lying about gang rape in Cyprus holiday resort
The 19-year-old Derbyshire woman, whom The Telegraph has chosen not to identify, says she was raped by up to 12 Israeli men in her hotel room in July.
She later retracted the accusation after hours of questioning by police.
The teenager was convicted on Monday of the charge of “public mischief” by Famagusta district court in the nearby town of Paralimni.
In his ruling, Judge Michalis Papathanasiou said the defendant did not tell the truth and tried to deceive the court with "convenient" and "evasive" statements. "She did not make a good impression on the court," he said. "She was never clear on what happened. She was not stating the truth and I reject the version she gave." He delayed sentencing until January 7, when the woman could be ordered to pay a €1,700 (£1,500) fine and serve up to a year in prison.
The teenager, dressed in black with her blonde hair tied up, sighed in disbelief as the court’s translator relayed Judge Papathanasiou’s decision.
Around 25 protesters from the Network Against Violence Against Women sat in court with gags over their mouths showing an image of stitched-up lips.
As the defendant walked out of court in a blindfold to hide her identity, they shouted: "We are with you. We know. We believe you."
British teenager found guilty of lying about gang rape in Cyprus holiday resort
The case has raised grave concerns for the safety of female tourists on the island, which attracts more than a million British holidaymakers each year.
The teenager reported the alleged rape to police hours after the alleged incident on July 17. Soon afterwards, the Israeli teenagers, who denied the allegations, were arrested.
Two weeks later the woman was questioned for eight hours by Cyprus police without a lawyer or family member present. During that time, she signed a statement of retraction saying she concocted the story.
British teenager found guilty of lying about gang rape in Cyprus holiday resort
The prosecution claimed she had made up the story because she felt ashamed and humiliated after discovering that she had been filmed having sex with one of the Israelis.
Her lawyers claimed she was suffering from trauma after the alleged incident and made the statement to police under duress.
She was charged with causing public mischief, defined by the Cypriot criminal code as knowingly providing police with “a false statement concerning an imaginary offence”. She was arrested in August and had her passport confiscated.
The Israelis, aged 15 to 22, were allowed to return home to Tel Aviv, where they celebrated their release, shouting "the Brit is a whore" and popping champagne at Ben Gurion airport.
The woman, who has had to forego a place at university in the UK because of the trial proceedings, spent Christmas in Cyprus after she was refused permission to return home until after the verdict.
British teenager found guilty of lying about gang rape in Cyprus holiday resort
Her lawyers tried to get the retraction statement thrown out as evidence. However, Judge Papathanasiou ruled that the questioning did not amount to undue pressure and her statement - which her defence team claimed did not appear to have been written by a native English speaker - was admissible.
The court heard how the men, who were not required to give evidence during the trial, had targeted the teenager and had bragged that they were going to “do orgies” with her.
She had chosen to give evidence in court to prove she was not lying after the judge branded her an “unreliable witness”.
She told the hearing earlier this month that she had initially agreed to have sex with one of the accused men, a man identified only as Sam, 21, who she met while working in Ayia Napa.
The teenager said his friends burst into the room and she shouted out "No."
“I said I am not doing that and told them all to go,” she said. “They left for a few seconds and Sam told me to lie on the bed and he got on his knees and put them on my shoulders,” she continued.
She described being pinned down and raped multiple times by different members of the group.
“I tried to cross my legs. I was trying to throw my arms about,” she told the court. “I don’t know how many of them raped me. I couldn’t see.”
British teenager found guilty of lying about gang rape in Cyprus holiday resort
The woman claims she then fled the hotel semi-naked to friends who took her to a medical clinic. She was examined by doctors before the police were called.
The handling of the case has been questioned by experts and has raised serious questions about the rigour of both the police and judiciary in investigating the woman’s allegation.
Marios Matsakis, a forensic pathologist, testified in court that he had found DNA traces from four men on the woman.
He claimed the rape kit exam presented in court as evidence was incomplete. ''There was no examination of the teenager's clothing which is surprising,” Mr Matsakis said.
“The woman was obviously in bad shape with a large number of external injuries, most of which were recent,” he added.
British teenager found guilty of lying about gang rape in Cyprus holiday resort
Responding to the verdict, Nir Yaslovitzh, the lawyer representing the young men, said: "I applaud the court's decision to convict the girl. I hope that the court will find it appropriate to aggravate the punishment imposed on the girl who refuses to this day to take responsibility for the horrible act she has done against the boys."
Ritsa Pekri, the woman's defence counsel, asked the judge for leniency in sentencing on Monday, citing her age and "maturity" handling the pressure she had been under.
"She's been in prison for one month and in Cyprus, effectively as a prisoner, for five. She's lost her friends, her place at university, her social life. She now has psychological problems as a result of the incident. She should be allowed home to be treated."
Her mother has claimed her human rights had been violated. “We were told no one could interfere because it’s local judicial process, and I understand that, but I find it shocking that neither Europe, nor the embassy, nor our Government, feel able to make sure her rights are being observed.”
Women's rights groups and civil society organisations reacted with anger to the guilty verdict.
"This woman was not only raped by those 12 men, but raped by the state, by society and by the media here," protester Maria Mappouridou told The Telegraph outside the court.
"Police in Cyprus always find a reason not to believe women who claimed they have been raped, many of us here today have experienced it. It's like Cyprus is 100 years behind on this, it's hard to believe we're fighting this in 2019 in an EU country."
Equality Now, an international women's rights organisation that campaigns on failings in laws relating to sexual violence, said there needed to be an investigation into how the teenager was treated by the Cypriot police on the night she signed her retraction statement.
"The teenager’s court testimony about being gang-raped and her subsequent treatment by state authorities, alongside the supporting evidence provided by expert witnesses for the defence, clearly expose the need for a comprehensive investigation into the night in question and the way the case has been handled by Cypriot police, medical authorities and state prosecutors," said Alexandra Patsalides, a human rights lawyer with the organisation.
The manner in which the British woman was treated by police and prosecutors "appears to have fallen considerably below international standards," she said.
"There are various complex reasons why a victim of sexual violence may retract their allegation. They might be traumatised and vulnerable, and have a lack of confidence in or fear of the justice process, especially if they have been subjected to prejudicial attitudes and negative gender stereotypes by the investigating authorities."
The Cyprus Womens' Lobby, an advocacy group, called for a wide-ranging review of how the police treat cases of rape and sexual assault.
"The whole process is fraught with problems, not just this case," Eleni Karaoli, a member of the group, told The Telegraph.
"Everything needs to be reviewed, from the first moment a victim approaches the police to how they take statements and how they treat the medical evidence. If that means changing the law, then we need to do that."
There was no information on how many similar cases there may have been in Cyprus. "But we do know there are cases of domestic violence where women who have been beaten by their husbands are told by the police just to go back to them."
British teenager found guilty of lying about gang rape in Cyprus holiday resort
Michael Polak, a British lawyer who is part of the teenager's defence team, told The Telegraph: "We are very disappointed with the decision but we are not surprised given how the trial was conducted.
"The judge said it was not about the rape but about whether she lied. But we say the two are inextricably linked. The rape is an essential element of whether she lied. He did not consider the case properly.
"We say the evidence - including defence witnesses' testimony and the police's failure to secure the crime scene - should have exonerated our client.
"It doesn't finish here. The next stage will be to appeal to the Supreme Court of Cyprus and then, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights."
The appeals process could take up to four years, he said.
The handling of the case should prompt Cyprus to make the recording of police station interviews obligatory, Mr Polak said.
The woman's questioning on the night she retracted the rape claim was not recorded because there is no such requirement under current Cypriot law.
"The Cypriot police should ask themselves whether they want a proper justice system or not. We need to know what happens inside police stations when defendants are questioned," said the lawyer.
A spokesperson for the FCO told the Telegraph: "We continue to support a British woman and her family following her arrest in Cyprus. This has been a deeply distressing case. Our staff have visited her a number of times in detention, attended court hearings, and are in regular contact with her legal representatives and the local authorities."
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