Protesters rallied outside the Supreme Court in Cyprus on Wednesday as lawyers launched an appeal against a young British woman’s conviction for allegedly lying about being gang raped while on holiday.
Gathered outside the court in support of the woman, demonstrators said the conviction was a “travesty of justice” and that it shone a spotlight on grave failings on the part of Cypriot police and the judicial system.
“Cyprus justice, shame on you,” the protesters chanted as a team of Cypriot and British lawyers presented their appeal to a panel of three Supreme Court judges.
The young woman from Derbyshire was on holiday in the party town of Ayia Napa in the summer of 2019 when she said she was gang raped by a group of up to 12 Israeli men.
She later retracted her statement, but only after being questioned by police for six hours, without a lawyer or translator, amid claims that she was threatened and intimidated by Cypriot officers.
The defence team argue that the retraction statement should never have been admitted and that the woman’s conviction on a charge of causing public mischief, for which she received a four month suspended sentence, should be overturned.
“She was held in a police station for more than six hours and she was suffering from PTSD. She had no lawyer,” said Michael Polak, one of two British lawyers acting for the woman, who is now studying at university.
“Under European human rights law, a waiver to the right to a lawyer must be unambiguous. No such waiver was given.”
The lawyers also argue that the judge in the original trial failed to take into consideration evidence provided by defence witnesses, including a psychologist who testifed that the young woman, who was 19 at the time of the alleged rape, was suffering from PTSD.
A forensic linguist told the trial that the language used in the retraction statement did not fit the teenager’s level of English and that it was likely Cypriot police had instructed her what to write.
A Cypriot pathologist said scratches and bruises on the young woman’s body were consistent with being sexually assaulted.
“All of this expert evidence was ignored by the trial judge,” said Mr Polak.
But Adamos Demosthenous, the lead prosecutor in the case who is acting on behalf of Cyprus’ Attorney-General, said: “We argue that the trial was fair and was carried out according to all proper procedures.”
The panel of three Supreme Court judges could deliver their verdict within a month, he said.
Lewis Power QC, who is also representing the British woman, said: “This young woman’s story has reverberated around the world since it hit the headlines in 2019.
“It has for her been deeply harrowing, humiliating and personally intrusive.
“She’s very anxious about the result of the appeal but she is bearing up. She’s determined that this won’t ruin her life.”
The young woman was not required to appear in court for the appeal and was monitoring the case from the UK.
“I think this is the biggest case in Cyprus in the last decade, beyond a shadow of a doubt. The world is watching. It is important for young women everywhere. This is a case in which the victim became the accused. It was a cruel twist of justice,” said Mr Power.
Outside the Supreme Court, police stood guard as protesters banged drums and held up banners in solidarity with the British woman.
“We are here to show our solidarity and to tell her that we believe her,” said Susana Pavlou of the Mediterreanean Institute of Gender Studies.
“Her conviction was a travesty of justice. We hope it will be overturned and that she will finally be able to put this behind her and begin her recovery.
“We hope this case, more broadly, will serve as an opportunity to look at systemic weaknesses in our justice system. There’s pressure for change now.”
The case had caused a “public outcry” not just in Britain and Cyprus but also in Israel, she said.
After an initial police investigation, the 12 youths returned home when the young woman signed the retraction statement.
“We’re here to reiterate that the Cyprus justice system must comply with international standards and make sure that sexual abuse victims feel that they are believed,” said Christina Kaili, from the Cyprus Women’s Lobby.
“Sexism is embedded in institutional culture and we need to make sure that this behaviour stops.”