LONDON – As sympathy and money poured in for a 19-year-old British woman found guilty and lying over a gang rape charge, the United Kingdom government said it would push the Cypriot government for answers.
“The UK is seriously concerned about the fair trial guarantees in this deeply distressing case and we will be raising the issue with the Cypriot authorities,” a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said in a written statement.
The woman, who was not identified, initially claimed she was raped by 12 Israeli men at a Cypriot holiday resort but was convicted on a charge of “Public Mischief” in a case where she continues to be backed by supporters.
She said the alleged attack occurred in Ayia Napa, which became a media sensation that raised questions about the treatment of victims of sexual assault even though she retracted her accusation after hours of questioning by police.
Judge Michalis Papathanasiou said the defendant did not tell the truth and tried to deceive the court with “convenient” and “evasive” statement, the British newspaper The Telegraph and other media reports said.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab expressed “serious concern” about the potential for a miscarriage of justice, the British newspaper The Telegraph and other media reported, and said he would raise the case with Cypriot officials.
The woman faces a maximum fine of 1,700 euros ($1,900) and up to a year ‘s imprisonment. She will remain in Cyprus for her Jan. 7 sentencing as supporters and the UK government said there was a miscarriage of justice.
She withdrew her her complaint two weeks after the alleged incident because she she said she was coerced by police and then again said the rape happened although prosecutors told the court the defendant fabricated the gang rape allegations because she was upset about being filmed while having sex.
The woman said the police questioning left her “scared for my life” and that the interrogation was not recorded as she changed her story. She told the British newspaper The Sun she was not surprised by the judgment and vowed to clear her name and appeal.
The teenager also claimed she has been contacted by other people who have been “forced to remain silent” during similar experiences. “This fight is for them and many more,” she told the newspaper.
The teenager’s mother told ITV News: “I find myself kind of unable to believe the violations of human rights she has experienced throughout the whole affair.”
She described the verdict as “absolutely astonishing” and said her daughter was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and needed to get back to the UK to be treated.
A campaign was launched online to encourage tourists to boycott Cyprus on the grounds that it is “not safe for women” to go on holiday on the former British colony which relies on Raab, a former lawyer who spent time on secondment to the human rights group Liberty, is following the case closely and “takes issues of access to justice extremely seriously,” unnamed sources told The Telegraph.
Michael Polak, a British lawyer on her defence team explained that the verdict “relied on her retracted statement.”
“When she made it, she had been held for seven hours without access to a lawyer. I don’t think that anyone who attended would say that this was a fair trial,” he said. He added that “it felt like the decision was made before the trial started.” She was 18 at the time.
The court also heard claims police had failed properly to secure the alleged crime scene or maintain fully the integrity of medical and forensic evidence.
Some 25 protesters from the Network Against Violence Against Women sat in the courtroom with gags over their mouths showing an image of stitched-up lips to support the defendant and shouted, “We are with you. We know. We believe you,” as she left court.
The woman was questioned for eight hours by Cypriot police without a lawyer or family member present and signed a statement she fabricated the rape but later told the court: “I didn’t think I would leave that police station without signing that statement.”
Her parents thanked the public for their support, as a fundraising drive to cover her legal fees nears 80,000 British Pounds ($105,343.) Her parents set up a GoFundMe page in August to cover legal fees, writing in an emotional plea: “After an awful series of events, we just want to bring her home.”
After the ruling, donations soared, bringing in about 20,000 British Pounds ($26,336) in less than a day, The Evening Standard said.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)