Outrage has greeted the news that a British teenager has been found guilty of lying about being gang-raped in Cyprus. Especially as details emerged that her retraction of her account go a gang-rape came after a seven hour interrogation by Cyprus police with no lawyer present to represent her.
The woman had said Cypriot police made her falsely confess to lying about the incident while she was suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – but the police denied this.
Lawyer Michael Polak, director of Justice Abroad which is assisting the woman, described it as “a very worrying conviction” that disregarded medical and video evidence of the rape.
Mr Polak explained: “although the defence team is very disappointed with the decision of the court, having put a lot of effort into the lengthy trial process and after bringing expert evidence before the court, we are not surprised by the result given the frequent refusal during the trial of the judge to consider evidence which supported the fact that the teenager had been raped.
“Shutting down questioning from our Cypriot advocates and the production of evidence into the trial on a handful of occasions the judge stridently stated ‘this is not a rape case, I will not consider whether she was raped or not’.
“We have found it incredibly difficult to follow this logic given that an essential element of the offence is for there to be a ‘false statement concerning an imaginary offence’ and therefore, clearly if the teenager was raped, she cannot be guilty.”
He told BBC News that “there were a number of bases for appealing the decision”. Mr Polak said that the judge in the teenager’s trial, Judge Michalis Papathanasiou, refused to hear any evidence about whether the alleged rape actually took place.
The 19-year-old was convicted of a single count of public mischief at Famagusta District Court in Paralimni on Monday.
She claimed she was attacked by up to 12 Israeli tourists in an Ayia Napa hotel on July 17 before making a retraction statement 10 days later.
The British teen could face up to a year in jail
The woman insisted in court that she was raped but had been pressured into changing her account by Cypriot police.
But she nodded her head slightly as she was found guilty, showing no other emotion until after Judge Michalis Papathanasiou adjourned sentencing to January 7.
The judge said the teenager did not tell the truth and had tried to deceive the court with “convenient” and “evasive” statements.
He said she told investigators she made up the claims because she felt “ashamed” after finding out some of the Israelis had filmed her having sex on their mobile phones.
Following the verdict, she argued with her lawyers, saying “I thought you were asking for a fine”, after Ritsa Pekri asked the judge to impose a suspended sentence, saying that she was under strong psychological pressure at the time.
The woman was a week into a working holiday the summer before she was due to start university when she alleged she was raped by the group of young Israeli men.
All 12 Israelis arrested over the alleged attack returned home after they were released.
The woman spent more than a month in prison before she was granted bail at the end of August and has not been allowed to leave the island.
She is still on bail and could face up to a year in jail and a 1,700 euro (£1,500) fine when she is sentenced.
The decision has been greeted with outrage and #IBelieveHer trending on social media.
The teenager was mobbed by photographers and camera operators as she left court with her mother.
Both wore white scarves around their faces depicting lips sewn together – brought by protesters from the Network Against Violence Against Women, who filled the court and demonstrated outside.
Her mother in the past has criticised what she saw as a lack of support from the authorities, saying that her daughter’s human rights had been “violated the whole way through” the process.
The teenager and her mother left the building as defence lawyer Nicoletta Charalambidou told reporters that they plan to appeal against the verdict.
“The decision of the court is respected,” she said. “However, we respectfully disagree with it.
“We believe there have been many violations of the procedure and the rights of a fair trial of our client have been violated.
“We are planning to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, and if justice fails … we are planning to take our case to the European Court of Human Rights.”
Alexandra Patsalides, human rights lawyer at Equality Now responded:
“The treatment of the young woman in this case by the Cypriot police, criminal justice system, and much of the local media has been extremely problematic and demonstrates a complete lack of sensitivity in handling and reporting on cases of gender-based violence. More should be expected from a country that is subject to EU standards and international human rights laws, including the Istanbul Convention which it ratified in November 2017.
“It is the duty of the investigators and the prosecution to thoroughly examine the circumstances of each case in an impartial manner and not base their decisions on negative gender-based stereotypes, or, as appears in this instance, pejorative attitudes about young people who visit Ayia Napa.
“There are numerous reasons why a victim may retract an allegation of sexual assault. In some instances, victims are subjected to pressure to withdraw an allegation by family members, the perpetrator or persons linked to them, or even by law enforcement, as it appears may have occurred in this instance.
“When a rape victim retracts an allegation, police authorities should assess all the reasons why. As has emerged from expert witness testimonies in this case, the police did not undertake a comprehensive or gender-sensitive investigation.
“Finding her guilty while there remains the need for thorough investigations to be made regarding the alleged rape, procedures followed by authorities, and the young woman’s treatment in custody, represent a serious failure of Cyprus’s legal system to pursue justice and to be seen to be doing so.
“We call for a thorough assessment and evaluation of the way the authorities have conducted their investigation throughout this case, and their treatment of the young British woman. There are also grave concerns about the lack of sensitivity in the reporting by the Cypriot media, and the various issues that have emerged, including the illegal dissemination of the video that was shared by the alleged perpetrators.”
But Nir Yaslovitzh, a lawyer representing some of the Israelis arrested over the alleged rape, welcomed the verdict.
“I applaud the court’s decision to convict the girl,” he said.
“I hope 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’s done against the boys.”
The judgement has been greeted with outrage and #IBelieveHer trending on social media.