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Woman appeals against conviction for false rape claim

A British woman who reported being gang-raped in Cyprus hopes to have her conviction for lying about the attack overturned.

The woman, then 19, told Cypriot police she had been raped by a group of 12 Israeli men in Ayia Napa in July 2019.

The Derbyshire teenager retracted the allegation after being held without a lawyer, and was then tried and convicted of causing public mischief.

Her appeal will now be heard by the Cypriot Supreme Court on 16 September.

If the conviction is not overturned her legal team intends to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

“She wants to get on with life, but for her to get on with life she needs to get this conviction overturned,” said barrister Michael Polak, who is helping the woman in his role as director of the law firm Justice Abroad.

“This will be on her record. It means any time she applies to join an association or for a job she will be thinking back to this and what’s happened to her.

“So it’s very important to her, even though she’s not in prison now, she’s back in the United Kingdom, it’s very important for her to overturn the conviction for that reason.”

Her case outraged women’s rights groups, who protested outside court ahead of the sentencing in January 2020.

Judge Michalis Papathanasiou gave the teenager a four-month suspended sentence, which meant she could return to the UK.

She will not have to return to Cyprus for the appeal hearing.

‘Horrendous experience’

“We will be arguing that the conviction is unsafe for a number of reasons and we are hoping the Supreme Court will set aside the conviction,” said Mr Polak.

One of these arguments will be that the judge did not consider evidence the woman really was raped.

“For public mischief you need to be making a false allegation and every time we brought forward evidence that the rape took place he would shout at our female Cypriot lawyers and say ‘this is not a rape trial, this is not a rape trial’,” said Mr Polak.

“He did it about seven times during the trial process, so in effect he shut out any consideration that the rape had taken place, which meant he didn’t properly consider all the elements of the offence.”


‘A terrible burden for my daughter’

Screengrab taken from PA video of the woman and her mother leaving Famagusta District Court in Paralimni
image captionThe woman’s mother (left)

The woman’s mother said getting the conviction overturned would be “the first step for my daughter reclaiming her life”.

“Imagine being raped then imprisoned because the authorities say you lied, after refusing to hear evidence to the contrary, then having to relive this each time you apply for a job or training course,” she said.

“This is a terrible burden for my daughter, having such a terrible thing happen to her and then carrying a conviction against her name for life.”

She said it was “difficult to be optimistic about the outcome of the appeal” given their experience of the courts in Cyprus.

“Our daughter was prevented from defending the case properly because of the trial court’s unwillingness to hear evidence of the serious sexual offences that she was subjected to,” she said.

“If this is understood then we have some hope that the legal minds in the Cypriot Supreme Court should acquit.”

If that does not happen, she said they would “take this matter to the European Court where we are certain that the justice will ultimately prevail”.

Barrister Michael Polak, director of Justice Abroad
image captionBarrister Michael Polak,

Another argument relates to the woman retracting the rape claim, which her lawyers say she did under pressure from police.

“She was there for almost seven hours without a lawyer, without her parents,” said Mr Polak.

“European law is particularly strong on this. There’s a case against Cyprus where a young teenager was taken into a police station in Limassol and a confession was taken from him with no lawyer.

“So in European law, the European Court of Human Rights has already decided that issue against Cyprus, and so we hope the Supreme Court will take account of that.”

Mr Polak said the woman would ultimately like the men involved to be prosecuted, but for now her legal team is concentrating on getting her conviction overturned.

“It was a really horrendous experience for her and she, of course, would like to see justice done in this case,” he said.

“The most important thing for the moment is to get the conviction overturned so she doesn’t have to carry it around for the rest of her life.

“We hope the Cypriot Supreme Court will make the right decision when we go there in a few weeks, and we hope we don’t have to take it all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights.”


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