Teen gets suspended jail term for ‘false’ rape claim
by Duncan Woodside
A Cypriot court on Tuesday handed a British teenager a four-month suspended prison sentence after convicting her of falsely accusing a dozen Israeli tourists of gang rape.
The 19-year-old, who could have faced up to a year in jail, smiled and hugged family at the end of a trial that sparked protests in Britain and calls for a boycott of the Mediterranean resort island.
Defence lawyers and activists say the case was littered with investigatory and legal mistakes and issues, including repeated refusals by the judge to consider whether she was raped.
The sentencing took place to loud shouts from protesters outside the court room, including dozens of Israelis — mainly women, but some men — who travelled to Cyprus to offer moral support to the teenager.
As the judge delivered his sentencing at the Famagusta District Court in Paralimni, shouts of “Cyprus justice, shame on you” were audible in the court, despite police ordering journalists to close windows and blinds.
Other shouts from outside included “Judge, shame on you, don’t you have a daughter too?” and “Blaming the victim is a second rape!”
Lawyers for the woman, whom AFP is not naming, say she was raped in the seaside resort of Ayia Napa by 12 Israeli teenagers in their hotel room on July 17.
She fled in distress to her own hotel and was examined by an in-house doctor, who called the police.
A group of Israeli teenagers were arrested and appeared in court, but 10 days after making a complaint of rape she was interviewed again by police and signed a retraction.
The Israelis, aged 15 to 18, were released without charge, allowed to return home and not called as witnesses.
– ‘Gaping chasm’ –
Britain has said it was “seriously concerned” about whether the woman received a fair trial.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said London would follow up with Cypriot officials after hearing “the full facts” from the defence and family.
“I’m relieved that this vulnerable young lady will now be returning home to begin the process of recovery, given all that she’s been through,” Raab told reporters.
“There is a broader issue for Brits travelling not just in Cyprus or indeed in Europe, but travelling abroad… to make sure that they can do so as safely and as securely as possible.”
Judge Michalis Papathanasiou had told the young woman “statements you have given were false”, as he convicted her on December 30 of “public mischief”.
He said during the trial that her account was beset by “contradictions, confusion, lack of logic and exaggeration”.
Lewis Power, a British lawyer helping the woman, said she would appeal to the Supreme Court but it was unclear when any case would be heard, because the “wheels of justice move very slowly in Cyprus.”
The case has highlighted “a gaping chasm in the treatment” of victims of sexual assault in Cyprus relative to other jurisdictions, Power added.
The woman’s mother and legal team say she has been suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Her legal team say she was questioned by police in the absence of a translator or lawyer acting on her behalf and there was no transcript or video recording of the process.
More than 50 Israelis flew to Cyprus to stand by the woman at the sentencing, partly out of disgust that the boys were welcomed home as heroes, they said.
“I am happy that she is going home, but her conviction still stands,” said Namaa Morell, a 20-year old mother.
“I see it as a success for today, but it doesn’t change the conviction and that’s the main problem,” especially since at least one of the boys is seeking to sue the British woman, she added.
Lucy Nevitt, who organised a march in support of the teenager in London on Monday, told AFP: “We are unsurprised by the sentence but disgusted how its leniency was framed as kindness to the young woman, when it is anything but.”