PARALIMNI, Cyprus (Reuters) - A Cyprus court on Monday found a British woman guilty of lying about being gang-raped by Israeli youths six months ago.
In a case closely followed by rights groups, a district court in the town of Paralimni ruled that the woman, aged 19 at the time, had lied about being sexually abused by 12 Israeli teenagers. Sentencing was set for Jan. 7.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was arrested after police said she had withdrawn an accusation that the teenagers had raped her in a hotel room at the holiday resort of Ayia Napa in July.
She was convicted of public mischief, which carries a fine, a jail term of up to one year, or both.
The woman maintained that she had recanted her accusation under duress from police during persistent questioning without a lawyer present. Prosecutors and the court dismissed that claim.
“My conclusion is that the guilt of the accused has been proven beyond reasonable doubt,” the presiding judge said in his verdict, describing her claims as inconsistent and adding that she had attempted to mislead the court.
Britain’s Foreign and Commonweath Office said it was “seriously concerned” about the fairness of the trial.
In a terse emailed statement released through the British High Commission in Nicosia, it said: “The UK is seriously concerned about the fair trial guarantees in this deeply distressing case and we will be raising the issue with the Cypriot authorities.”
The defendant’s lawyers said she would appeal. Nonetheless, they urged the court to exercise leniency in sentencing, including the possibility of suspending any possible jail term.
“We believe there have been many violations in the procedure and the rights of fair trial of our client have been violated,” said her lawyer, Nicoletta Charalambidou.
The Israelis were released without charge 10 days after being arrested, the day the woman retracted her accusation. They were not summoned to court because prosecutors considered the case one of public mischief, not rape.
In testimony in open court, the defendant said she had been in a hotel room with one of the Israeli youths, with whom she had a relationship, before others appeared and she was pinned down.
One defense witness, Marios Matsakis, a forensic pathologist who formerly worked for the state, said the woman’s injuries were consistent with rape. Prosecutors said she had fabricated the allegation, angry at being filmed during sex.
“This victim was never protected, from the first instance,” said Zelia Gregoriou, an activist who stood with about 20 individuals protesting against the verdict.
“From the first instance, she was raped again and again by the press, by society and the legal system.”
The woman left the courthouse with a blanket over her face and a handkerchief around her mouth, imprinted with an image of female lips sewn shut.
Reporting by Michele Kambas, editing by William Maclean, Kevin Liffey and Nick Macfie