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Shame on Cyprus

Conviction of 19 year old woman for “lying” about rape

On 30 December 2019, a British teenager was found guilty by a Judge in Cyprus of the crime of “public mischief”.

The teenager told police she was gang-raped and later retracted her complaint (in circumstances, as we shall see, that are incredibly concerning). The Judge found she had lied about the rape allegation, and that finding underpinned the conviction. She served a month in prison before sentencing. In January 2020 she was sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for 3 years.

The case is a travesty of justice and has rightly attracted considerable attention around the world.

Following are the undisputed background facts:

  • At the time of the events in issue, the young woman was in Cyprus (in the town of Ayia Napa) on a working holiday. She was 18 years old.
  • She made a complaint of gang rape. She said she had been having consensual sex with a young man and while they were having sex, a group of his friends entered the room, pinned her down and gang-raped her. The young men were Israeli nationals (this fact is relevant, for reasons which will become clear).
  • After the allegation was made, the young men were arrested and held in custody.
  • On 28 July 2019, she retracted her allegations. The young men were released from custody and flew home to Israel.
  • She was subsequently charged with the offence of public mischief (later, convicted).

Given the prevalence of sexual assault in our society and the difficulties facing any woman who makes a complaint of sexual assault, any decision to charge a woman with an offence arising from her complaint of rape is prima facie concerning. A closer look at the facts is warranted – and here, the more facts that come to light, the more concerning this case becomes.

First, the circumstances of the retraction (the “confession”) make it unreliable. The retraction was made by the young woman after 7 hours of questioning by police. There was no lawyer or translator present. No recording of the police interview was made (such recordings are not required by law in Cyprus). At the trial, the young woman gave evidence that she was pressured to change her story by the police, and was “scared for [her] life”.

Secondly, there are questions about the fairness of the trial itself. The Judge – Michalis Papathanasiou – refused to allow any evidence about whether or not the young woman was in fact raped. Moreover, none of the young men said to have been involved in the incident were called to give evidence. The Evening Standard reported Mr Polak, of Justice Abroad, as saying the following: “ … 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.”

Thirdly, there are concerns about a political element to the case.  It has been reported that Cyprus has been working towards a better relationship with Israel. An improved relationship with Israel is valuable for reasons including Turkey’s increased willingness to flex its military muscle in the region. The case against the young men, if it had proceeded, risked damaging the relationship between Cyprus and Israel. Israeli diplomats were reportedly engaged in the case from its earliest stages, including by arranging lawyers for the young men. This is not in itself unusual, but it has been reported that on the night the young woman retracted her allegation, the Greek foreign minister was in Israel meeting political counterparts.

The impact on this young woman is difficult to imagine. She has been forced to defend herself in the court of a foreign country, her family setting up a GoFundMe page for financial support to pay the legal bills. Her passport was confiscated and she was not permitted to leave Cyprus. She spent a month in prison before being released on bail. She was due to start university in September 2019 and has instead been fighting for her rights in Cyprus. Expert evidence was given at the trial that she is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What an incredible woman, facing this terrible injustice. She has much support – both within Cyprus and abroad. Two former attorneys-general of Cyprus, Petros Clerides and Alecos Markides, have called upon the current attorney general to intervene in the case. The Network Against Violence Against Women has been active in the case, including by protesting outside the court. There is no doubt this brave young woman is a fighter. But she needs more help.

Although the prison term she received was suspended (allowing her to return home to the UK), she is fighting her conviction. That will involve more legal fees.

What can we do?

Donate to the family’s GoFundMe page. Funds are needed for legal fees – she is planning an appeal to the Supreme Court of Cyprus.  Donate at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-teen-victim-get-justice-in-cyprus 

Boycott Cyprus – the family has backed the #BoycottCyprus hashtag.