A British woman convicted of fabricating a gang rape complaint while on vacation in the Cypriot town of Ayia Napa has launched an attempt to clear her name before the island’s high court.
In what lawyers described as a critical day for human rights in Cyprus, the 21-year-old Derbyshire student filed the appeal as his supporters protested in front of the Nicosia court.
“It is a very important day,” her Cypriot lawyer Nicoletta Charalambidou told the Guardian, saying the Briton was too psychologically exhausted to attend the hearing. “She still suffers from PTSD, but is determined to clear her name.”
The woman seeks to overturn a four-month sentence, suspended for three years, handed down by a district court judge who found her guilty of fomenting public mischief after ruling that she had lied about being raped by up to 12 Israeli tourists in July. of 2019.
The guilty verdict depended on a written confession in which the then-teenager allegedly admitted to falsifying her original complaint.
On Thursday, his lawyers, led by Britain’s QC Lewis Power, presented a dossier arguing that the retraction, which made up almost the entire prosecution case, was extracted under duress in the absence of a lawyer or translator, after seven hours of incessant questioning. police. The withdrawal of the complaint allowed the alleged assailants, who were between 15 and 22 years old and included the children of senior Israeli officials, to return to their homes.
With her status altered from alleged victim to suspect, the British woman spent more than four weeks in Nicosia General Prison before being forced to remain on the island for legal proceedings that would drag on for the next six months. For legal reasons, she has not been publicly named.
A three-member panel of judges led by British-born jurist Persefoni Panayi is overseeing the appeal.
The 67-year-old judge, who trained in the UK before moving to Cyprus, assumed the top post of the Supreme Court last year.
Arriving at court in the heart of Nicosia, the island’s capital, Power spoke of the student’s family’s anxiety over the outcome of the trial.
“She and her mother are anxious about the result and will be watching from afar,” he told reporters. “This young woman’s story has reverberated around the world since she made headlines in 2019.
“It has been both shocking and harrowing and for her it has been deeply heartbreaking, humiliating and personally intrusive, yet she has overcome this with determination and has courageously resolved to fight this case to the end where she believes justice will be served.”
His team was hopeful, he said, that through the Cyprus Supreme Court “this girl can free herself from the shackles of an unjust conviction that has tarnished her young life.”
Michael Polak, who heads the legal aid group Justice Abroad, which coordinates the appeal, called the conviction a judicial error and said that if it was not overturned it could have a dramatic effect on the young woman’s life.
“This case is essential for the protection of human rights in Cyprus, as well as the treatment of those who report sexual crimes,” he said in a statement after the hearing. “It is of the utmost importance to the woman involved that her wrongful conviction be overturned, as a conviction like this can prevent her from applying for certain jobs and is a constant reminder of what happened to her.”
For the first time, activists say the country’s highest court will have to decide not only whether there was a fair trial, but whether the Mediterranean island fulfilled its obligations as an EU member state and as a signatory to conventions that recognize the need. to provide support to the alleged victims of rape. The case is expected to last for several weeks.
Activists on the island maintain that the case has highlighted the problem of rape and the reluctance of local authorities to believe the reports of sexual assault.
Heavy-handed accusations among male judges in a deeply patriarchal justice system have been rife. The British defense team on Thursday withheld particular criticism for the handling of the case by district court judge Michalis Papathanasiou, arguing that he had totally dismissed all defense expert testimony “without good reason”.
“There has never been a case like this in the supreme court,” said Zelia Gregoriou, an expert in gender studies at the University of Cyprus who was among the protesters outside the building. “This woman should never have been put on the bench.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism