Cyprus police will review their handling of British woman’s gang rape case

The woman was in a consensual relationship with semi-pro footballer Shimon Yusufov, who was 19

The woman was in a consensual relationship with semi-pro footballer Shimon Yusufov, who was 19

Cyprus police will review their handling of a British woman’s gang rape case after her conviction for ‘lying’ about being attacked by 12 Israeli men in 2019 was overturned. 

On Monday, the Cyprus Supreme Court quashed the conviction against the woman, who had been found guilty of public mischief after she made the rape accusation.

The woman, now aged 21 and not publicly identified, had in July 2019 told police she had been raped by the Israeli tourists, aged 15 to 22, in a hotel room in the Mediterranean island’s party resort town of Ayia Napa.

Aged 19 at the time of her arrest, she was charged after she retracted her initial complaint, but later said she had been pressured to do so by local police in lengthy questioning without a lawyer or translator present.

Speaking today, Cypriot police spokesperson Christos Andreou told state broadcaster CyBC that the authorities are studying the court decision.

He said the police were ‘not infallible’, but they did follow procedures outlined by the courts, and added that the police would examine whether ‘mistakes or omissions’ had been made during the case investigation.

Defence lawyers successfully argued on Monday that there had been a miscarriage of justice when a district court in January 2020 found her guilty and handed her a suspended four-month jail term.

In a statement issued on Wednesday by Justice Abroad, lawyer Michael Polak, who coordinated the appeal against the woman’s conviction, called for the case to be reopened and demanded an inquiry into what went wrong.

‘The Supreme Court’s strong stance as to the numerous failings requires an inquiry as to how the police and trial court managed to get things so wrong,’ said Polak.

‘We hope that the Cypriot authorities will also take the initiative and transfer the matter to a different police force for a proper investigation to take place, which is their legal duty.’   

The country’s Supreme Court handed down its decision after lawyers for the woman successfully argued the trial judge had ignored expert evidence and had failed to allow the victim to give evidence about the rape.

The Supreme Court said the young woman was put through a trial process that was ‘manifestly unfair’.

‘A 19-year-old was summoned to the police station in the afternoon for additional testimony as a complainant, only to be questioned as a suspect six hours later, that is after midnight,’ it said.

Some of the seven male Israeli tourists arrive to appear before Famagusta District Court in Paralimni, Cyprus, 26 July 2019

Some of the seven male Israeli tourists arrive to appear before Famagusta District Court in Paralimni, Cyprus, 26 July 2019

The teenager, convicted of falsely accusing a group of Israelis of gang-rape, covers her face as she arrives at the Famagusta District Court in Paralimni in eastern Cyprus on January 7, 2020

The teenager, convicted of falsely accusing a group of Israelis of gang-rape, covers her face as she arrives at the Famagusta District Court in Paralimni in eastern Cyprus on January 7, 2020

Lawyers representing the woman, who cannot be identified, welcomed the court’s decision and said she is ‘beside herself with a mixture of emotion, relief and joy.’

Lewis Power, QC, who took part in the appeal to the Supreme Court said: ‘The Supreme Court of Cyprus have handed down their landmark decision and allowed the appeal of this young woman. 

‘In doing so they have quite properly recognised the serious flaws in the investigative and trial process and her unjust treatment.

‘This was the most deplorable of cases in which a myth was created denying the existence of gang rape, a myth which justified the rapists’ behaviour, shifting the blame on to the victim.

‘This is not just a victory and total vindication for the Appellant but for all those woman around the globe who have been both denied and wronged in justice. This case in my view has highlighted the injustice of justice.’ 

The victim, a university student from Derby, was 19 when she 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.

She had told police she was attacked by up to 12 Israeli tourists in a hotel room in the party town of Ayia Napa on July 17 2019, but was charged with making the story up after signing a retraction statement 10 days later.

She was in a consensual relationship with semi-pro footballer Shimon Yusufov, who was also 19, but told police he held her down while she was raped by a gang of 12 who also filmed it on their mobile phones in a hotel room after a night out.

Throughout numerous court hearings the woman maintained she was pressured by officers to withdraw the rape allegation.

She often clashed with the judge who refused to hear any details of her rape allegations and instead focused on the police handling of the case and how she had changed her original statement.

Lawyer Michael Polak, left, and lawyer Nicoletta Charalambidou, second from left, embraces with a woman after the end of a trial of a British woman who is appealing her conviction for making false claims that she was gang raped by as many as a dozen Israelis, outside of Cyprus' Supreme Court in the capital Nicosia on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022

Lawyer Michael Polak, left, and lawyer Nicoletta Charalambidou, second from left, embraces with a woman after the end of a trial of a British woman who is appealing her conviction for making false claims that she was gang raped by as many as a dozen Israelis, outside of Cyprus’ Supreme Court in the capital Nicosia on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022

Lawyer Michael Polak, background, is seen as protesters hold banners in support of a British woman, outside of Cyprus' Supreme Court in the capital Nicosia on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022

Lawyer Michael Polak, background, is seen as protesters hold banners in support of a British woman, outside of Cyprus’ Supreme Court in the capital Nicosia on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022

After her conviction and suspended sentence, she vowed to clear her name with her local lawyers filing an appeal to the highest court in Cyprus. 

The woman was not in Nicosia, Cyprus, to hear the court’s decision but was represented by her UK based lawyer Michael Pollack from Justice Abroad.

A panel of three judges, including the English-born president of the Supreme Court, Persefoni Panayi, were told the conviction was unsafe and should be set aside.

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.

Her Cypriot lawyer Nicoletta 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.

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.

Her legal team argued in court that ‘all her rights were violated’ when local police interrogated her for more than six hours without access to a lawyer while her alleged attackers were set free.

They claimed she was bullied into signing a retraction statement, which was used to charge and eventually convict her of ‘public mischief’ at a shambolic trial.

After spending five weeks in prison and almost six months trapped on the island, the woman was given a suspended four-month jail sentence. 

Sentencing in January 2020, the judge said the evidence showed she had ‘lied’, but added: ‘Her psychological state, her youth, that she has been away from her family, her friends and academic studies this year, this has led me to decide to give her a second chance and suspend the sentence for three years.’

Pictured, the bedroom where the alleged rape took place. She was branded a liar, charged with fabricating the rape, coerced into retracting her accusation and — as she awaited trial for the offence of causing public mischief — thrown into jail for five weeks

Pictured, the bedroom where the alleged rape took place. She was branded a liar, charged with fabricating the rape, coerced into retracting her accusation and — as she awaited trial for the offence of causing public mischief — thrown into jail for five weeks

Sickening: Israeli youths were greeted with hugs after being released from police custody

Sickening: Israeli youths were greeted with hugs after being released from police custody 

The Israeli men and boys, aged between 15 and 20 at the time, arrested over the incident denied any wrongdoing.

They were freed and returned home to a hero’s welcome.

Police in the resort of Ayia Napa denied that they had mishandled the case.

Despite the woman’s conviction being overturned they are unlikely to re-open the investigation.

A police source said: ‘As far as we are concerned it is a closed case.’

Commenting on the girl’s ordeal, Powe, QC, said:’ This young lady has had to deal with the most ghastly sexual ordeal, a shoddy Police investigation, an over-bearing trial Judge, imprisonment and strict bail confinement in Cyprus.

‘She has been vilified in social media, yet she has stood firm in her pursuit of justice. 

‘Her fortitude, bravery and strength over these past few years has been quite remarkable. 

‘Her resilience has been exemplary and she has shown true grit, determination and an unbelievable inner strength and we celebrate her courage.

‘She has had to endure the victim blaming attitude which has oft become entrenched in society and indeed has become institutionalised within many criminal justice jurisdictions.

‘Throughout this case, the old adage came to mind ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced’. This is what this woman has adhered to.

‘We hope today that this ground-breaking decision will send out seismic waves across the world, which we hope will lead to radical legal reform in sexual assault cases and will eradicate injustice where there has been silencing and exclusion.’

Source

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