Cyprus court convicts UK woman of making false rape claim against Israeli teens

    19-year-old could face a year in prison, insists police forced her to sign confession during 8-hour interrogation without an attorney

    A British teenager (L), accused of falsely claiming she was gang raped by Israeli tourists, covering her face as she arrives for her trial at the Famagusta District Court in Paralimni in eastern Cyprus, October 2, 2019. (Iakovos HATZISTAVROU/AFP)
    A British teenager (L), accused of falsely claiming she was gang raped by Israeli tourists, covering her face as she arrives for her trial at the Famagusta District Court in Paralimni in eastern Cyprus, October 2, 2019. (Iakovos HATZISTAVROU/AFP)

    A Cypriot court on Monday convicted a 19-year-old British woman of falsely accusing a dozen Israeli teenagers of raping her at a beach resort in Ayia Napa earlier this year.

    The 19-year-old, whose name is barred from publication,  was convicted of “public mischief,” which carries a sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of around 1,700 euros. Sentencing was adjourned until January 7.

    “The statements you have given were false,” the judge told the defendant in remarks translated by the court interpreter.

    The British woman appeared frustrated by the delay to the sentencing, telling her lawyer: “He already made his decision! I thought we were asking for a fine.”

    The defense said it would lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court.

    “We believe there have been many violations in the procedure and the rights of fair trial have been violated,” the woman’s lawyer, Nicoletta Charalambidou, said.

    Israeli teens who were cleared of rape allegations in Cyprus reunite with family members at Ben Gurion Airport on July 28, 2019. (Flash90)

    Rights groups argued the teenager has suffered humiliation and been mistreated by the police and media.

    They have called for an investigation into police handling of the case and criticized the way rape cases and victims are treated in Cyprus.

    More than a dozen women from an association for the protection of women attended court wearing white scarves with an image of lips sewn shut printed on them.

    As the defendant was led from the court with her face blindfolded to shield her identity, 20 protesters chanted: “We are with you” and “We believe you.”

    “The way the case of this young lady was handled by the police and Cyprus government was wrong,” said one of the demonstrators, Maria Mappouridou.

    Another protester, Helena Gonata, said “everyone will find a reason not to believe her. That’s the case with rape — no one will believe you.”

    “We’re trying to encourage women to talk. Many women are afraid to come forward.”

    In October, the British woman told the Famagusta district court that police had coerced her into retracting the rape claim she filed in July. She said that interrogators threatened to arrest her if she didn’t admit she had lied and that she didn’t think she would be allowed to leave the police station if she didn’t sign a confession. The woman said she was denied access to a lawyer during the eight-hour questioning and the police investigator told her that authorities had footage proving that the sex she had with the Israeli teens was consensual, though she did not show it to the complainant.

    But the judge said during the trial that police had acted properly at all times, with no pressure exerted to change the woman’s mind about her initial rape claim.

    When asked by her lawyer on the stand in October whether she had been raped, the British tourist maintained that she was.

    According to the Daily Mail, the lead investigator said the accused “cried rape” because she was embarrassed over being filmed having sex. During the October hearing, the court turned down prosecutors’ request to play the video, with the woman’s lawyer saying it would be dangerous for the mental health of his client.

    After receiving the original rape complaint in July, Cypriot police had immediately arrested the group of Israelis, holding them for nearly two weeks until the woman recanted her claim during questioning, saying there had been consensual sexual contact with some of the suspects.

    Her defense team, which claims she was pressured into changing her testimony, presented the court with text messages sent between the Israelis that it said showed the alleged rape was planned in advance.

    They have said the rape allegation was not properly investigated, and have complained that there is no recording of the eight-hour interrogation that led to her signing the confession without first speaking to a lawyer.

    British legal aid group Justice Abroad, which is supporting the woman, said the defense would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

    “Despite the setback today, the teenager who has spent over a month in prison and six months where she has been unable to leave Cyprus is determined for justice to be done in her case as well as to help change the culture towards victims of sexual offences in Cyprus,” Justice Abroad’s Michael Polak said in a statement.