British teen spared prison in controversial Cyprus rape case
Woman receives four-month suspended sentence but can return to UK
A British woman found guilty of lying about being gang-raped while on holiday in Cyprus has been given a four-month suspended sentence.
The unnamed 19-year-old initially claimed that she was raped by up to 12 Israeli men and boys in a hotel in Ayia Napa on 17 July 2019, but was found guilty of causing public mischief in December after retracting her claim.
The case has become a cause celebre for women’s rights campaigners, after the woman alleged Cypriot police made her falsely confess to lying about the incident - something police have denied.
According to the BBC, the teenager wept as she left the court in Paralimni in Cyprus, her sentence having been suspended for three years as Judge Michalis Papathanasiou told her he was giving her a “second chance”.
Activists have been left frustrated that the woman was still found guilty of lying, despite questions being raised about the conduct of Cypriot police.
On 17 July last year, 12 Israeli men and boys aged between 22 and 15 were arrested in Ayia Napa, a popular holiday resort in Cyprus, after a 19-year-old British woman accused them of raping her in a hotel.
The incident allegedly took place at the adults-only Pambos Napa Rocks budget hotel, which The Times reports “hosts pool parties described as ‘wild’ and which ‘create carnage’”.
Five of the suspects were released a few days later after no DNA evidence linking them to the case could be found, The Guardian reports. But on 27 July, the woman was asked to come into a police station to give another statement, which she did willingly.
The newspaper adds that she was then accused of lying about the allegations during eight hours of questioning without a lawyer. She later signed an official retraction of her accusation. The same day, she was charged with “giving a false statement over an imaginary offence”.
On 30 December, a court in Paralimni ruled that the woman was guilty of causing public mischief - a crime which could have seen her face up to a year in jail and a £1,500 fine.
However, at her sentencing on 7 January, she was sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for three years, and was also fined €140 (£119). She is now free to return to the UK.
Why was her conviction being questioned?
Much of the controversy surrounding the case hinges on the retraction letter which the 19-year-old signed ten days after accusing the men of rape.
Al Jazeera reports that she “maintains she was raped after having consensual sex with one of the Israelis” but was “forced to change her account under pressure from Cypriot police”.
Her legal team also says that she was denied a lawyer or even a translator during the interrogation that led to her retraction.
“There were a number of bases for appealing the decision,” said lawyer Michael Polak, the director of Justice Abroad, an organisation that assisted the woman during the case, adding that restricting access to a translator or lawyer during the interrogation was a breach of European human rights law.
Last week, Polak also criticised the handling of the case by Judge Michalis Papathanasiou, who he said refused to hear any evidence about whether the alleged rape took place.
The judge said that the teenager had been motivated by anger and had falsely levelled the rape claim against the Israelis when she realised video clips of her having consensual sex with one of them had been recorded by others in the group, according to ITV News.
Prior to the woman’s sentencing, furious reactions from human rights groups and lawmakers alike embarrassed the Cypriot judicial establishment. The Guardian reports that multiple protests have taken place outside the court at Paralimni, with activists calling the guilty verdict the “product of a system that remains insensitive to gender and rape”.
What has the reaction been?
The Guardian reports that the woman “hugged her family and legal team and left court weeping, with her head in her hands, after she was sentenced”, adding that before the sentencing “dozens of protesters gathered outside Famagusta district court in Paralimni.
“They included a group of women who had travelled from Israel,” the paper adds, who chanted “Cyprus justice, shame on you”, “stop blaming the victim” and “you are not alone”.
The teenager’s mother, who has been campaigning for her daughter’s release, said: “On behalf of the family, I would like to say we are very relieved at the sentence that has been passed down today. I would also like to say thank you for all the support we have received throughout the globe.”
However, the woman’s legal team have said they will continue to fight to overturn the initial conviction, which many still believe to have been unjust.
Lewis Power QC, the woman’s lawyer, said: “Whilst we welcome the fact that the sentence imposed today allows her to go home, we strongly contest the conviction and the fight for her innocence will go on regardless. We will be appealing the conviction and will take this case to the European Court of Human Rights.”