UK and Cyprus lock horns over trial of Brit who falsely accused teens of gang raping her
London - Calls for action over a British teenager’s conviction for inventing a gang-rape attack intensified on Tuesday night as Cyprus told Britain to back off.
Amid mounting criticism, the Mediterranean island called on the UK to ‘show respect’ and leave its courts ‘unfettered’ after British ministers threatened to intervene over the trial’s fairness.
The 19-year-old was branded a liar and convicted on Monday of ‘public mischief’ for filing a gang-rape report with police that she later retracted.
The Midlands teenager, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, had claimed she was assaulted in a budget hotel in July by 12 Israeli youths.
She said they held her down and raped her after she had consensual sex with one of them during a holiday in Ayia Napa.
But she was arrested after making a retraction that she claims was the result of coercion by corrupt police following eight hours of questioning without access to a lawyer.
The men were freed and allowed to return home, but she was remanded in jail for more than a month before being released on bail – and has been stuck on the island ever since.
Major concerns about her trial have been raised on Cyprus and in the UK, sparking a diplomatic row.
The woman – who wore mask outside Famagusta court in Cyprus this week, depicting her lips sewn together – plans to appeal, and is prepared to go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights to clear her name.
However, her lawyer said last night that exhausting Cyprus’s legal system could take up to two years.
Opinion in recent weeks has been swung in the woman’s favour, with women’s rights groups holding protests and the local paper describing investigators as ‘Keystone Cops’.
As a result of the case, many Twitter users are using the hashtag #BoycottCyprus, threatening to cancel holidays and never visit the island again.
Cyprus hit back after the Government said it would take up the case, and had ‘serious concerns’ over the treatment of the student.
A statement from a Cypriot government spokesman said: ‘The government has full confidence in the justice system and the courts of the Republic of Cyprus, which should be left unfettered to implement state laws and deliver justice.’ The family of the woman – who faces up to a year in prison and a £1,500 fine when she is sentenced next Tuesday – backed action by the Government last night, saying they had continued to hope ‘that justice will eventually triumph’.
Their calls for the case to be looked at were joined by two former Cypriot attorney generals and Welsh ex-MP Ann Clwyd, who described it as a ‘travesty of justice’.
But Cypriot government sources accused the Foreign Office of ‘meddling’ for releasing a statement questioning the fairness of the trial.
The country’s attorney general, Costas Clerides, said: ‘We have the same legal justice system as the UK.
‘If the girl feels she has not had a fair trial then the option of appeal is open to her. But the UK must show respect toward our legal system.’
However, former attorney general Alecos Markides said the legal system appeared to be ‘crushing’ the teenager. He sent a joint letter with another ex-attorney general, Petros Clerides, and former justice minister Kypros Chrisostomides to Costas Clerides, asking him to step in and revoke charges against the teenager.
Mr Markides said it was not in the public interest to have charged the teenager, adding: ‘The legal system appears to be crushing a 19-year-old tourist, leaving her stranded in Cyprus for five months – a girl with no criminal record, who had never committed any criminal offence, forbidding her to leave the country, forcing her to resort to public fundraising to survive.’
Ann Clwyd, a former member of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: ‘It looks like a travesty of justice. It seems to me far from fair. It needs looking at again.’
A Foreign Office source said the UK was keen to keep things ‘amicable’ with the Cypriots, but further action had not been ‘ruled out’ by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
The source added: ‘We are exploring any way in which we can help and are watching closely how this develops.
‘It is more to do with what access to justice she had and the issue of retracted statements and how that impacts on her human rights.’
Mike Polak, of the campaign group Justice Abroad, said: ‘It is great that the Foreign Office and the Foreign Minister have finally decided to get involved in such a worrying breach of a British national’s rights abroad.’Daily Mail