NICOSIA — A British woman who said she was gang raped on Cyprus – and later recanted and was convicted of lying about it, saying she was coerced – was cleared by Cyprus’ Supreme Court which overturned the finding.
The woman, who was a teenager at the time and hasn’t been publicly identified despite the conviction, said a gang of Israeli young men assaulted her at a holiday resort in July, 2019.
After she was found guilty, supporters rallied around her and the accused returned home to a joyful welcome in Israel but the alleged victim kept pressing her case that police pushed her into making a false confession.
She received a four-month suspended sentence and was allowed to return home but had the conviction on her record but the high court tossed it and said she was not given a fair trial.
“This is a watershed moment,” said Michael Polak of the legal aid group Justice Abroad, who had coordinated the appeal against the conviction, the British newspaper The Guardian reported.
“Not just for our client who has always maintained her innocence even when doing so caused her the hardship of not being able to return home during the lengthy trial proceedings, but also for others round the world in similar positions,” he said, adding the verdict was achieved “against the odds.”
Persefoni Panayi, the British-born President of the Supreme Court, upheld the appeal against the conviction, although the three-member panel was divided, with one voting against.
The woman, a student now 21, gave graphic details of up to 12 men raping and taking turns sexually abusing her in a hotel room in Ayia Napa after she had gone out with one of them that night.
The case overseen by District Court Judge Michalis Papathanasiou focused on her allegedly admitting she had falsified her original complaint but her defense team said it was done under duress, without a lawyer or translator and seven hours of police grilling her.
Papathanasiou had repeatedly refused to allow the defendant, as she stood in the dock, to speak about the assault, saying: “This is not a rape trial,” leaving her unable to testify about what she said happened.
The retraction freed the alleged assailants, aged 15-22, and including the sons of senior Israeli officials – Cyprus’ government has key energy, business and other deals with Israel.
She spent four weeks in Nicosia general prison before being forced to remain on the island another six months as the court proceedings went on and with her supporters rallying and carrying signs in her defense, putting Cyprus in a bad eye internationally.
She was not on Cyprus to hear the decision, the paper said, her lawyers saying she was too traumatized to travel and return to the scene but a statement from her mother greeted the verdict.
“It is a great relief we hear that the authorities in Cyprus have recognized the flaws in their legal process. Whilst this decision doesn’t excuse the way she was treated by the police, or the judge or those in authority, it does bring with it the hope that my daughter’s suffering will at least bring positive changes in the way victims of crime are treated,” she added.
Demonstrators outside the court as Polak applauded the Briton’s “brave Cypriot female lawyers” who, he said, were repeatedly “shouted at and treated with contempt during the trial proceedings,” as well.
Some carried banners scrawled with the words “end rape culture” and “rape is a crime,” the paper said, adding that women’s groups felt the case was tainted over Cyprus wanting to keep close relations with Israel.
In Israel, where women’s rights activists have also come out in support for the university student, local media asked: “Will the boys now go on trial, or will we never find the truth?” the report also added.
While he said he was happy with the verdict, Polak told The Guardian there won’t be justice until there’s a new investigation of the rape complaint that could renew accusations, although it wasn’t said how the defendants could be forced to return.
“We want the investigation to be transferred to a different police force so that all the evidence in this case can be considered fairly and dispassionately,” he said. “Cypriot authorities now have a duty to properly investigate the rape complaint because it is clear that was never done,” he said.