A British teen who says she was forced to retract a gang rape accusation under duress was handed a four-month suspended sentence on Tuesday on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. She was convicted last week of “public mischief” for making a false accusation which her lawyers say was based on signing a retraction without a lawyer present during a lengthy interrogation that was not taped.
The 19-year-old woman, whose name has not been released, called a hotel doctor in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, early July 17 after she said that more than a dozen Israeli males between the ages of 15 and 20 raped her in one of the young men’s hotel room, according to the initial police report.
At the time, the woman told police that she had consented to sex with a 21-year-old Israeli man named Sam, but that his friends allegedly barged in once she was in his hotel room.
The 12 Israelis were arrested and taken into custody, but they were released ten days later after the young woman withdrew the accusation. She says that the police threatened to arrest all of her friends on the island if she did not sign a statement retracting the rape claim. She said that at the time of the retraction, she was suffering severe panic attacks brought on by post traumatic stress disorder over the alleged rape.
She was then charged with making a false accusation and sent to a prison in the capital city of Nicosia. She was released on bail after a month, but her passport was confiscated and she was forced to stay in Cyprus during the three-month trial.
During the trial, the defense was denied all of its witnesses, including a psychologist who treated her. The woman detailed the night of the alleged rape to Cypriot judge Michalis Papathanasiou in open court. “I told them they had to go. Sam told me to lie on the bed and then he put his knees on my shoulders,” she said, according to a transcript of the court testimony.
“There was a lot of shouting in Hebrew,” she said. “I couldn’t breathe. I tried to throw my head about and his friends were coming in all shouting and jeering.”
She then told the court she could not count how many men penetrated her. “I tried to cross my legs,” she told the court. “I was trying to throw my arms about. I don’t know how many of them raped me. I couldn’t see.”
The woman managed to escape and was examined by an in-house doctor who called police who came to the hotel to get her to file the rape complaint. “I was so scared that I passed out twice,” she told the court. “I couldn’t sit upright in the police car.”
The court also heard that the Israeli men had been overheard bragging that they had targeted the young woman prior to the incident, and that they had planned to “do orgies” with her. None of the men were called to give evidence in the false accusation trial.
The case has drawn scrutiny across the U.K. and Israel with calls for a boycott of the popular tourist destination. On Tuesday, several dozen protesters–including 60 from Israel—carrying signs that read, “We believe you” and “boycott Cyprus” gathered in front of the courthouse where the sentencing was read. The woman had previously worn a bandana round her mouth with a picture of a person with their mouth sewn shut, but during the sentencing hearing, she covered her face with a scarf.
During the sentencing, Judge Papathanasiou said he had been “troubled” over the case. “All the evidence shows that she had lied and prevented the police from doing other serious jobs,” he said. “Twelve people were arrested and seven of them were there for at least 10 days. That was also a serious offense.”
He then said that the teen’s “emotional condition” led him to the lenient sentence. “Her psychological state, her youth, that she has been away from her family, her friends, and academic studies this year has led me to decide to give her a second chance and suspend the sentence for three years,” he said.
Women’s rights groups have petitioned the president of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, to pardon the young woman over the handling of the case, which many believe was an attempt not to paint the island as a dangerous place for single female tourists.
But her lawyers say a pardon will not suffice and they will appeal the conviction with the Cypriot Supreme Court and, if unsuccessful, the European Court of Human Rights. “Even if there is a pardon, the conviction would still stand so it would be of little succour to the young woman,” one of the woman’s lawyers, Lewis Power, told The Daily Telegraph outside the court Tuesday. “That would have a dramatic effect on her for the rest of her life in terms of wanting to travel or the career she may choose. So we will fight on for justice in order to clear her name.”