A lawyer representing a British women who was convicted of making a false claim of gang rape against 12 men in the tourist resort of Ayia Napa, Cyprus, says that the case will deter women from reporting rape and violence in the future.
Nicoletta Charalambidou, who is representing the woman, then aged 19, told Euronews that the case also raised searching questions for the European Union about whether its member states were effectively implementing legal standards and rules.
Charalambidou, who has pledged to take the case to the country’s appeal court and, failing that, to the European Court of Human Rights, claims her client was denied access to a lawyer when investigators questioned her about the case in July 2019.
She had reported 12 men for attacking her in a hotel room, but later retracted the claim. After the men, aged between 15 and 20 and from Israel, were released, she was arrested and charged with “public mischief”. She was convicted of that charge on December 30.
The woman will be sentenced on January 7 and could face a custodial sentence of up to a year and a fine of 1,700 euros ($1,900).
“The message is that the way [this case] has been tried, it says to women that they should think twice before reporting rape and violence because they never know how it will turn out,” Charalambidou said.
The lawyer added that the ordeal had been a nightmare for the young woman’s family, with her mother quitting work in order to remain in Cyprus with her for the duration of the case. Her client spent a month in jail before being released on bail earlier this year.
“This is a nightmare for her. It has destroyed her whole way of life, personally and as a family. The priority now is to get our client home, so she can get on with her life,” she said.
Charalambidou said that if they were to win an appeal, she would want to see the rape case re-opened against the 12 men, but that she does not believe Israel would ever agree to extradite them even if the Cypriot authorities reversed their position on the case.
It is not the first time in 2019 that the authorities in Cyprus have been criticised for their attitude towards investigating violence against women. In May, an army captain admitted to killing five migrant women and their daughters over two-and-a-half years.
Four of the women were from the Philippines, and critics claimed that if the police had taken the first killing more seriously other women could have been saved.
“If it would be a Cypriot woman missing for so long, they would definitely do something,” Katarzyna Kyrlitsias, from Poland and married to a Cypriot citizen, told AP. “But because we’re foreigners, they think nobody would find them, nobody would look for them.”
Cyprus also came under fire over the December 30 verdict, including from the British government, which said it was “seriously concerned about the fair trial guarantees in this deeply distressing case”.
Meanwhile, outside the court house, two dozen representatives of the group the Network of Violence Against Women held a protest outside the building, some with strips of cloth with stitched lips over their mouths. The women and her mother also wore the strips.
Charalambidou, an established human rights lawyer, said that she volunteered to take the case because “it was obvious to me that something was wrong.”
“I know how the system works in Cyprus,” she said. “I know how cases of violence against women are dealt with, that has to do with an unwillingness of the authorities to properly investigate these type of cases.”
“We are a small island. We are a male-dominated island. That is an aspect that one has to have in mind.”