NICOSIA, Cyprus — A Cypriot court’s conviction of a young British woman for lying about being gang-raped by Israeli tourists was a miscarriage of justice, lawyers appealing the ruling said on Thursday.
The unnamed woman, who was 18 at the time of her arrest, alleged that she was raped by up to 12 Israelis in a hotel room in the seaside holiday resort of Ayia Napa in July 2019.
She has accused Cypriot police of having forced her to sign a retraction statement, after which the Israeli suspects were released.
A district court in January 2020 convicted her of causing public mischief and handed her a four-month jail term, suspended for three years.
The Briton, now aged 21, was not in attendance as her defense team launched the appeal on Thursday before the Supreme Court in Nicosia.
Around 50 women activists demonstrated outside the court in support of her case, holding banners that said “I believe her” and “Sister, we believed you from the start”.
The United Kingdom-based Justice Abroad, which is assisting the young Briton and her family in their bid to get the conviction quashed, said that she had been suffering PTSD at the time of her retraction.
It said that the retraction statement, taken after she had spent almost seven hours in a police station without a lawyer present, “should never have been admitted” into evidence.
“This case is a seminal one for the protection of human rights in Cyprus as well as the treatment of those who report sexual offenses,” said lawyer Michael Polak, director of Justice Abroad.
“It is of the utmost importance for the woman involved to have her unjust conviction overturned,” he said in a statement issued later.
Polak said that the conviction could “prevent her from applying for certain jobs and is a constant reminder of what happened to her”.
‘Shocking and distressing’
The lawyer said that the retraction should not have been admissible in court since she had been denied access to legal representation.
“The legal principles are clear that an unambiguous waiver of the right to a lawyer is required before a court should rely on evidence obtained from an individual given without legal assistance,” he said.
“No such waiver existed in this case.”
The appeal is also based on the trial judge refusing to accept evidence that a rape took place.
“By refusing to hear evidence to show that a rape took place and by shouting at our female Cypriot lawyers ‘This is not a rape trial’… the trial judge failed to uphold these basic principles,” said Polak.
Defense lawyer Lewis Power said that the ordeal had been “shocking and distressing” for the young woman whose case made international headlines.
“It has been deeply harrowing, humiliating and personally intrusive,” said Power.
“Yet she has risen above this with grit and determination and has courageously resolved to continue to fight this case to the end where she believes that justice will be done.
“Today, through the Supreme Court of Cyprus, [we hope] this girl can free herself from the shackles of an unjust conviction which has tarnished her young life.”
A decision on the appeal is expected to take around a month. Polak said that if it is rejected, he will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Susana Pavlou, director at the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies, a Cypriot NGO, said that overturning the conviction would allow the young woman to piece her life back together.
“Her conviction was unjust… a travesty of justice,” she told AFP outside the court.
“We hope this never happens again. It can only not happen again if, in Cyprus, we have an honest public discussion about the weaknesses in our victim support system, our weaknesses in police practice, and our weaknesses in the justice system.”