UK woman found guilty of lying about being gang raped in Cyprus has conviction overturned

The woman’s lawyers say the decision marks a “very important day for women’s rights” and for victims of rape and sexual violence
Activists protesting outside the Famagusta District Court after the woman was convicted in 2020.Activists protesting outside the Famagusta District Court after the woman was convicted in 2020.
Activists protesting outside the Famagusta District Court after the woman was convicted in 2020.

A British woman found guilty of lying about being gang-raped in Cyprus has won her appeal to overturn the conviction at the country’s supreme court.

The 21-year-old university student was given a suspended four-month jail term in 2020 by a Cypriot judge who found her guilty of public mischief following a trial at Famagusta district court in Paralimni.

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She told police she was attacked by up to 12 Israeli tourists in a hotel room while on holiday in the party town of Ayia Napa on July 17 2019.

At a glance 5 key points:

  • Woman was found guilty of public mischief in 2020
  • She had told police she was attacked by up to 12 tourists in a hotel room in Ayia Napa in 2019
  • She was charged after signing a retraction statement - but said she was pressured to withdraw the allegation
  • Her appeal went to the Supreme Court in Cyprus and her conviction was overturned
  • Decision has been described as a “watershed moment”

What happened at the supreme court?

The woman was charged after signing a retraction statement 10 days later but has since maintained she was pressured by officers to withdraw the rape allegation.

Her team of English and Cypriot lawyers took her appeal to the supreme court in the capital Nicosia in September, arguing the conviction is unsafe and should be set aside.

On Monday, the court allowed the appeal and overturned the conviction, according to her lawyers, who welcomed the decision but said her original allegations should now be investigated.

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The woman’s Cypriot lawyer, Nicoletta Charalambidou, said: “This is a very important day for women’s rights and in particular for victims of rape or other forms of sexual violence in Cyprus.

“The acquittal by the supreme court of the young teenager points to the failure of the authorities to effectively investigate the rape claims she reported. This is what we will now pursue.”

During last year’s appeal hearing, the woman’s lawyers said the retraction statement, which formed the basis of the prosecution case, should never have been admitted into evidence because it was made by a vulnerable teenager who had spent almost seven hours in a police station without a lawyer.

Ms Charalambidou also said the lower court started from the position that there was no rape and had misunderstood the offence of public mischief, which requires a false statement of a make-believe crime.

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She said the trial judge, Michalis Papathanasiou, did not allow the defendant to talk about the alleged rape, pointing to the seven times he said: “This is not a rape trial.”

He was also said to have ignored defence expert evidence and failed to consider police failures in investigating the rape allegations.

The 12 Israeli men and boys arrested over the incident, aged between 15 and 20 at the time, denied any wrongdoing. They were freed and returned home.

What has the woman’s family said?

The woman, who had vowed to clear her name having flown back to the UK hours after she was sentenced, and her family did not attend the hearing.

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Her family said in a statement: “It is a great relief we hear that the authorities in Cyprus have recognised 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 that victims of crime are treated.

“Of course, if justice is to be done, an authority would need to pick up on the evidence that was gathered in Cyprus and do with it what should have happened at the outset.”

What else has been said?

The British lawyer who coordinated the appeal, Michael Polak, from the Justice Abroad organisation, said: “This is a watershed moment, 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 around the world in similar positions.

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“We have always maintained that our client was not given a fair trial and today the supreme court of Cyprus has agreed with us.”

He added: “We are pleased that our team has managed to secure this result against the odds and believe that the next step for justice to be done in this case is a full review and investigation by a different police force of the rape complaint put forward by our client.

“We hope that vital safeguards to ensure that something like this does not happen again in Cyprus, such as the recording of all interviews in police stations, which has been discussed in the Cyprus parliament, are put in place as soon as possible.”

Lewis Power QC added: “It is with great joy that we learn that this young woman has at last received the justice she so rightly deserved, that which had been thus far so cruelly and unjustly denied.

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“We hope that this decision will have far-reaching implications in the pursuit of justice for other victims of sexual assault.

“We commend the Cypriot supreme court for having the courage and wisdom to deliver this judgment.”

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