Rights groups urge Cyprus to drop false rape case against Briton

By Helena Smith

Human rights and feminist groups are calling for Cypriot authorities to drop the case against a British teenager accused of falsely claiming she was raped by 12 Israeli tourists in a hotel room.

The 19-year-old, who reported the alleged assault almost three months ago but was then arrested after revoking her criminal complaint, is due to go on trial on Tuesday on a charge of public mischief. She has pleaded not guilty to fabricating the accusation of rape, but could be imprisoned for up to a year if found guilty.

Forced to relinquish her passport and remain in Nicosia, the island’s capital, she has already spent a month in detention, sharing a cramped cell with nine other women.

A growing number of human rights organisations are demanding her release.

“It’s brutal what she and her family have had to endure,” said Susana Pavlou, the director of the Nicosia-based Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies. “It is totally disproportionate to what she is accused of.”

The NGO is among 11 organisations that last week urged Cyprus’s attorney general, Costas Clerides, to dismiss the case, which is being watched as closely there as it is in Israel and the UK.

The student – who cannot be publicly identified – says she retracted the rape claims under duress during prolonged police interrogation. A confession, retracting her initial accusation of assault in the resort town of Ayia Napa, was signed at 2am after eight hours of questioning, according to her lawyers. They have been highly critical of the fact that a lawyer was not present.

The same day, the Briton’s alleged assailants were released from custody and allowed to return home. Most were 18 although at least two were 15.

Michael Pollak, a barrister with the legal aid group Justice Abroad, which is spearheading a four-strong team defending the Briton, said it was evident she had post-traumatic stress disorder – brought on by her change of status from victim to suspect – and was susceptible to pressure.

“It is the flight instinct of those who suffer from PTSD to want to take the easy way out and what is so unique here is that nothing was recorded by [Cypriot] police, creating the perfect environment for officers in the station to exert undue pressure on her to change evidence.”

He added: “It’s quite clear police in Cyprus were under immense pressure to deal with the matter quickly, that no one wanted rape claims hovering over Ayia Napa, which after all depends on young tourists.”

Last week, police denied any mishandling of the case. “We have treated this affair with utmost sensitivity and seriousness,” said the force’s chief spokesman, Christos Andreou.

Cyprus’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism. The divided island’s Greek-administered south is keen to expand already warm ties with Israel. The east Mediterranean nations are linked by security and energy ties that officials consider to be strategic and politically sensitive.

Local NGOs echo the argument of the woman’s defence lawyers that police mishandled the inquiry.

“From the outset she had no access to basic rights as foreseen under domestic and EU law,” said Pavlou, adding that in a patriarchal society such as Cyprus the case had highlighted a lack of protocol by authorities in rape complaints.

“For three days she had no mental health support. We have asked the attorney general to intervene because we want to put an end to her re-victimisation and this constant media exposure, which can only be traumatic. What we have seen has amounted to cannibalism. It is hugely troubling.”

The trial is set to last at least three days. If convicted, the Briton’s defence team say they will take the case to the European court of human rights.