PARALIMNI, Cyprus – A 19-year-old British woman convicted of lying about an alleged gang rape at a Cyprus resort last July she said involved a dozen Israeli men was spared jail when a court on Jan. 7 gave her a four-month suspended sentence on the charge of public mischief.
The woman, who hasn’t been identified despite the conviction, had recanted the rape charge after she said she was coerced through a police interrogation, again insisting it was rape and not a consensual group sex act and her lawyers said they would appeal the conviction.
Judge Michalis Papathanasiou said although the public mischief charge was a serious offense, he decided to give the woman a “second chance” because she admitted through her lawyers during mitigation that she made a mistake in making the false rape claim.
He also cited other reasons, including her young age, immaturity, clean criminal record, personal circumstances, psychological condition and the fact that she had already spent a month in detention during the six months that legal proceedings including her trial lasted.
The judge said he also took into account that the huge publicity that her case has received in the United Kingdom where Foreign Minister Dominic Raab was upset over the convction although Israeli media was against her story.
Papathanasiou fined the woman 140 euros ($156) and told her defense lawyers that the sentence could be activated if she commits another serious offense within three years. Under Cyprus law, public mischief carries a maximum one-year prison term and a 1,700-euro ($2,000) fine.
The woman’s mother told reporters that she was “very relieved to be going home” after months of legal proceedings. Despite the suspended sentence, she said defense lawyers would try to overturn the conviction so that it’s expunged from her permanent record.
British lawyer Lewis Power, part of the woman’s defense team, said an appeal would be filed with Cyprus’ Supreme Court and possibly with the European Court of Human Rights for “elements of this case which did not result in a fair trial.”
“(The woman) intends to have a positive outlook to move on from this process, not to let this process ruin her life,” Power told The Associated Press. “She’s delighted today, not just for herself, but for the impact that this case has had on all those women that are the subject of sexual assaults around the world.
She said she was “inspired and motivated” by the public support her daughter received from the UK, Israel and Cyprus with widespread backing from women’s groups who said they believe her story of rape and that it wasn’t a sex act she wanted done to her.
The case drew widespread interest in the UK and Israel after initial reports that the woman was the victim of a gang rape evolved into her being charged with making up claims of rape. The guilty verdict also triggered strong reaction from activist groups.
The woman insisted that she was raped in a hotel room at a coastal resort town on July 17 and that she was forced to sign the retraction 10 days later while under police questioning. All of the Israelis, aged 15-20, were then released and allowed to return home.
Reading his verdict last week, Papathanasiou said the defendant didn’t tell the truth and tried to deceive the court with “evasive” statements in her testimony.
The judge said the woman had admitted to investigators that she made up the claims because she was “ashamed” after finding out that some of the Israelis had videoed her having consensual sex with her Israeli boyfriend on their mobile phones. He had also said her admission was “the only time the defendant told the truth.”
While the judge was reading his sentence, a noisy group of demonstrators who showed up to support the woman chanted slogans outside the court house including, “Cyprus justice, shame on you” and “Stop blaming the victim.” Many cheered when they heard that the judge handed down a suspended sentence.
Anna Kleiman, of the Israeli activist group LOTEM, called the woman’s conviction “disgraceful” because it leaves her with a criminal record and makes it difficult for her to “pursue her dreams.”
“This is shameful that she was even suspected for the beginning and it’s unbelievable. We are furious,” Kleiman told the AP.
Nir Yaslovitzh, who represented some of the Israelis in the case, had called for a harsh sentence, but said it sufficed she was convicted.
“We respect the court’s decision. What was important to us was that the woman would be convicted and the version told by the clients I represented would be accepted,” he said.
Power said it remains to be seen if the “triumphalism” that some of the Israelis exhibited on their return to Israel after their release from Cyprus police custody were the actions “of people who were innocent of a crime.”
SHE SAID, THEY SAID
The woman, who has been kept on Cyprus, will be allowed to return to Britain after a judge said that he was willing to give her “a second chance” in a case that has drawn international attention.
Crowds of people, including some who had traveled from Israel, protested outside the courthouse in a show of support after a Cypriot news media report that said President Nicos Anastasiades had planned to pardon her if she received a jail sentence.
The woman said the Israeli teens, ranging from 15-19, raped her in a hotel room and they were arrested but then released after she retracted her accusation, a change of heart she said was made under duress and which she now has recanted.
The judge said the case brought serious consequences for both the British woman, because she had not been able to attend university, and the accused Israelis, because it “restricted the freedom of 12 young men,” the New York Times reported.
Her mother told her daughter’s supporters, “We’re finally going home,” although one of her attorneys, Lewis Powell, said she had been “stripped of her dignity and human rights” and may take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Nicoletta Charalambidou, another defense lawyer, said that because going through the justice system in Cyprus could take years, they would seek to expedite the process.
The chief investigating officer, Marios Christou, testified she admitted reporting the episode because the young men “were recording her having sex” and “she felt insulted.” He also cited inconsistencies between her statement and video footage from the night in question.
Several women’s rights groups protested outside the Foreign Office and the Cypriot Embassy in London in support of the woman. They also urged Britain’s Foreign Office to “boycott Cyprus.”
Lucy and Verity Nevitt, founders of the Gemini Project, a British non-profit group that works to end sexual violence, called the woman’s treatment “inhumane.”
“The message from Cypriot authorities is essentially ‘if you talk, we will silence you’,” they said in an email to The Times.
The woman’s legal team she she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and that the police pressured her to change her story, which Christou denied, with the case raising other issues in an era of heightened awareness about sexual harassment.
In Israel, the paper said, there were questions about consensual sex and societal pressures on young men regarding their “manliness,” although even some of their defenders were upset there were celebrations on their return.
More than 50 Israeli activists affiliated with the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, an Israeli non-profit, traveled to Cyprus to show their support to the British woman, and demonstrated outside the courtroom while her sentence was being handed down.
Orit Sulitzeanu, the organization’s director, said in a statement from Cyprus that the court’s guilty verdict “testified to the deep lack of understanding of what sexual injury is.”
“I hope the young Israeli men will realize that they hurt the young woman badly,” she said, “even if they were not put on trial.”