United Kingdom

British woman files appeal against Cyprus 'fake rape' conviction

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Activists take part in a demonstration supporting a British woman who says she was pressured into retracting a claim of gang rape, outside the Supreme court in Nicosia, Cyprus September 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

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NICOSIA, Sept 16 (Reuters) - A British woman convicted for falsely claiming gang rape in Cyprus has filed an appeal to the island's Supreme Court, seeking to clear her name.

The woman received a suspended four-month prison sentence from a district court in January 2020, in a case which sparked concern from Britain and activists about her treatment by Cypriot authorities.

Lawyers for the defendant, who was not in court and cannot be named for legal reasons, and prosecutors presented their arguments before three Supreme Court judges in the capital Nicosia on Thursday.

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The court is expected to issue a ruling within six months.

The woman, then aged 19, filed a complaint in July 2019 that she had been raped by a group of Israeli youths in the holiday resort of Ayia Napa. Days later the complaint was withdrawn, leading to her arrest and subsequent conviction for public mischief.

She maintains she withdrew her complaint under duress after hours of police questioning and without a lawyer present, being offered one, or waiving her right to a lawyer.

Prosecutors say she was questioned in the presence of a social worker, who reported nothing untoward in the process.

"The case is a seminal one for the protection of human rights in Cyprus, as well as the treatment of those who report sexual offences," said Michael Polack, director of the UK-based Justice Abroad advocacy group, which is assisting the woman's local and British defence team.

"It is of the utmost importance for the woman involved to have her unjust conviction overturned, as a conviction such as this prevents her from applying for certain jobs, and it is a constant reminder of what she went through," he added.

Following the woman's conviction in January 2020, the British government said it had "numerous concerns" about the judicial process and her right to a fair trial.

Twelve Israeli youths were detained for questioning but swiftly released after the woman withdrew her accusation.

They were not required to give any evidence at the woman's trial because the case focused on whether she had misled authorities and given a false statement, rather than the alleged rape itself.

Earlier on Thursday, a group of about 40 activists held banners outside the courthouse demanding justice. "Sister, we believed you from the start," one banner read.

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Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Catherine Evans

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