Cypriot legal system under fire amid rape case controversy

Demonstrators hold placards calling for a boycott on Cyprus, and in support of a British teenager convicted of lying about being raped by Israeli tourists, as they protest in London on January 6, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 08 January 2020

Cypriot legal system under fire amid rape case controversy

  • The British woman has been caught in a legal storm since July, when the alleged rape took place in an Ayia Napa hotel

LONDON: Women’s rights campaigners marched through London on Monday to protest against the treatment in Cyprus of a British teenager convicted of “lying” after she accused a group of Israeli men of gang rape.
The march started at the Cypriot Embassy, where dozens of protesters held signs calling for boycotts of Cyprus. A huge banner read: “This is not justice. Overturn the conviction. Let her come home.”
When the march reached Downing Street, chants of “justice” were directed at the British government, which the protesters accuse of not doing enough to support the 19-year-old teenager, who has not been named for legal reasons.
On Tuesday, she was handed a four-month suspended sentence after Judge Michalis Papathanasiou convicted her of falsely accusing the Israelis of gang rape.
The British woman has been caught in a legal storm since July, when the alleged rape took place in an Ayia Napa hotel.
She said she had been raped by up to a dozen Israeli men on July 17. Twelve men were arrested and taken into Cypriot police custody, but they were freed just 10 days later.
When the British teenager signed a retraction, she was charged with lying. Her legal battle had just begun.
The Israelis, by contrast, celebrated with relatives outside Famagusta police headquarters, hugging their loved ones and dancing with joy.
The scenes of revelry continued at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport, where some of the boys were filmed cracking open bottles of champagne and chanting: “The Brit is a whore.”
But in a jail cell in Cyprus, a British woman was forced to reflect upon the legal whirlwind that had taken place around her — a nightmare that campaigners and rights groups say displays a shocking, sexist injustice.
The British Foreign Office broke convention by publicly criticizing another country’s legal system, declaring the case “deeply distressing.”
Ahead of her sentencing this week, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he had “serious concerns” about her treatment.
Following the suspended sentence, Raab said he was “relieved” that the teenager could now begin the “process of recovery,” as she returned to the UK on Tuesday night.
But protesters in Cyprus, Britain and Israel have the Cypriot legal system in their sights as they campaign to end what they perceive to be a grave injustice.
Jenn Selby, a candidate for the Women’s Equality Party in the UK, told Arab News that the case was “a blatant miscarriage of justice.”
She said: “The treatment of the young woman … has been utterly appalling. She claims Cypriot police coerced her into withdrawing her allegations of rape, without a lawyer and in violation of her human rights.”

HIGHLIGHT

The British woman has been caught in a legal storm since July, when the alleged rape took place in an Ayia Napa hotel.

Selby added: “She was then subjected to a trial in which the judge refused to hear any evidence about whether the rape actually took place, ignored expert testimony and physical and video evidence that supports her claims, and accused her of inventing her story because she was ashamed. This isn’t justice, this is a sham.”
Susana Pavlou, director at the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies in Cyprus, said the case has instigated a “culture of protest” in the country.
“This year it has been revealed how broken our criminal justice system is — broadly in terms of police and social services response to violence against women, and the lack of specialist services,” she added.
“It’s heartening to see how this has ignited women’s rights campaigners and a women’s rights movement focusing on this issue. This isn’t going to go away. We won’t be silenced.”
The teenager’s lawyer, Lewis Power QC, said the case is “not finished by any means.” He added: “We will be seeking an expedited appeal to the Supreme Court of Cyprus, and we will also be considering going to the European Court of Human Rights.”
He said: “We do not feel we have had justice in terms of how the trial progressed, the manner in which it was conducted, the initial police investigation, and the fact that we feel she did not receive a fair trial.”
Power added that the appeal to the Supreme Court will begin “in the next few days,” but expressed concern that it could face lengthy delays because “the wheels of justice move very slowly in Cyprus.”
Campaigners say Cypriot authorities wasted no time in labeling the British teenager a liar, fantasist and criminal.
Legal group Justice Abroad said the trial was unfair because Papathanasiou refused to consider whether she had actually been assaulted.
Her legal team said the teenager’s confession, extracted after eight hours of police questioning, was the product of coercion.
The defense said the poor English demonstrated that the “highly educated” teenager had not written it.
Papathanasiou, in his sentencing remarks, said he had “decided to give her a second chance” after “all the evidence shows that she had lied.”
Many say she never had a first chance. Dr. Marios Matsakis, a forensic pathologist, testified that he was convinced that “violence was exercised” during the incident. He said bruising on her body was “consistent with rape having taken place.”
Papathanasiou was not interested. Referring to the questionable confession, he said: “Her guilt is proven.”
Orit Sulitzeanu, head of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, said: “She is not to blame at all.” Sulitzeanu added: “This sentence reflects backward thinking and not understanding the dynamics of rape. The judge here must learn what happens to the victim of sexual abuse.”


Virus prompts temperature checks, extra cleaning at airports

This picture taken on January 13, 2020 shows Taiwan's Center for Disease Control (CDC) personnel using thermal scanners to screen passengers arriving on a flight from China's Wuhan province, where a SARS-like virus was discovered and has since spread, at the Taoyuan International Airport. (AFP)
Updated 53 min 1 sec ago

Virus prompts temperature checks, extra cleaning at airports

  • The outbreak has spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai, with cases also confirmed in Thailand, South Korea, Japan, as well as Taiwan

BEIJING: Many countries are checking the temperatures of arriving airline passengers and adopting precautionary quarantine procedures in response to a new virus that has sickened nearly 440 people and killed nine in China. India, Nigeria, Japan and the United States are some of the countries where airport screening procedures were in place.
The outbreak is believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan in central China. The Chinese government’s confirmation that the new virus can be transmitted between people heightened fears it could spread faster and more widely just as millions of Chinese planned to travel for the Lunar New Year holiday. So far, the US, South Korea, Japan and Thailand have confirmed additional cases. Widening public health measures are intended to prevent a repeat of the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, which started in China and killed nearly 800 people.
 
MAINLAND CHINA
China’s often-secretive Communist government was blamed for making SARS far worse by initially hiding information and blocking the work of the World Health Organization. This time, leader Xi Jinping has called for tough measures and said “party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people’s lives and health first.” At the airport in Wuhan, the temperatures of departing passengers were checked and outbound tour groups were banned from leaving the city. Virtually everyone in a public role, from traffic police officers to bank tellers, is wearing a protective face mask. In addition to 258 cases in Wuhan, more than 20 have been diagnosed in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong province in the south and Zhejiang in the east.
 
JAPAN
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged officials to step up quarantine checks at airports and other entry points, and Japan will require visitors arriving from Wuhan to fill in health forms. Japan confirmed last week that a man in his 30s tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from the Chinese city. The health ministry says 41 people who had contact with him were being monitored and none has developed a fever, tight chest or other symptoms.
 
HONG KONG
The semi-autonomous city is one of the most popular destinations for mainland Chinese. It has stepped up surveillance and ordered more cleaning and disinfecting for planes and trains from Wuhan as well as for train stations and the airport. Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung said authorities are ready for a worst-case scenario and are on extremely high alert. A lack of information and low levels of vigilance were blamed for Hong Kong becoming the second-hardest hit area by SARS after mainland China in the early 2000s. As in much of mainland China, Hong Kong residents favor traditional markets where live poultry and other animals are sold. The government advises people against visiting such markets or touching animals or their droppings.
 
UNITED STATES
The US reported its first case of the virus on Tuesday in a man in Washington state who recently traveled from China. Health authorities are checking his contacts and travel. The US also will route all Wuhan-originating airline passengers to five airports where health screenings have begun or will begin later this week — New York’s Kennedy airport, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed a test to detect the new coronavirus and plans to share it with others.
 
SOUTH KOREA
South Korea reported its first case of the virus on Monday, in a Chinese woman who works at a South Korean company. At Incheon airport near Seoul, the only airport in South Korea with direct flights from Wuhan, two special gates are designated for passengers from the city and ear thermometers are used to check their temperatures. Arrival halls are being sprayed with disinfectant twice a week, up from once a week previously, and escalator handrails, elevator buttons and other sensitive surfaces are wiped with disinfectant twice a day. In 2015, South Korea suffered an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome which killed 36 people and sickened nearly 200.
 
NIGERIA
Nigeria’s government says health authorities at points of entry are on alert for cases of coronavirus arriving in Africa’s most populous country. The Nigeria Center for Disease Control asked that travelers from Wuhan report to a medical facility and the center if they feel ill. China is Africa’s top trading partner. South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said anyone with a severe respiratory illness should be tested if they have traveled to Wuhan within two weeks or had close physical contact with a coronavirus patient or treatment at a facility where a confirmed case has been reported. There were more than 200,000 Chinese workers in Africa as of the end of 2017, not including numerous informal migrants such as traders and shopkeepers, according to the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University.
 
INDIA
India will expand thermal screening of passengers arriving from China, including Hong Kong, to seven airports from the current three. In-flight announcements before arrival will direct passengers with a fever or cough who have traveled to Wuhan in the previous 14 days to declare themselves to health authorities. Thermal screening will begin in Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Cochin, and continue in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, the Ministry of Civil Aviation said.

SINGAPORE AND MALAYSIA
Singapore will expand temperature screening at Changi Airport, one of Asia’s busiest travel hubs, for all travelers on flights arriving from China beginning on Wednesday. The health ministry said individuals with pneumonia and a history of travel to Wuhan within 14 days of the onset of symptoms will be isolated in a hospital as a precautionary measure and investigated. Neighboring Malaysia has also beefed up screening at Kuala Lumpur’s airport. Deputy health Minister Lee Boon Chye said staff are being trained to handle possible cases. “If a case emerges, then we may have to take more drastic measures, but for now, we hope we can nip it at the entry point,” Lee told reporters.
 
BANGLADESH
Bangladesh civil aviation authorities have ordered airport managers to start screening incoming passengers from China. A.H.M. Touhid-ul Ahsan, director of the main Shahjalal International Airport, said doctors at the airport would look for fevers, coughs, breathing difficulties and sore throats. The country’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research will be notified of any passengers with symptoms for further examination, he said.
 
AUSTRALIA
Brendan Murphy, Australia’s chief medical officer, said biosecurity staff and state health officials in New South Wales are meeting flights from Wuhan and are distributing pamphlets printed in English and Chinese to all passengers. The pamphlets describe symptoms of infection and ask people to identify themselves if they are experiencing any.
 
RUSSIA
Russia’s Healthcare Ministry described the virus as a biological hazard, with Deputy Minister Sergei Krayevoy saying the virus was a “striking example” of the biological threats Russia faces. The Russian public health service, Rospotrebnadzor, said it had developed a testing kit that would allow labs to detect the new coronavirus quickly. Russia is one of the three most popular tourist destinations for people from China, according to Russian officials. They estimate that about 2 million tourists from China visited Russia in 2018.
 
ITALY
The Italian Health Ministry says passengers making direct and indirect flights from Wuhan, China to Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport will be checked for potential signs of the virus. People with suspected infections will be quarantined at an infectious disease hospital in Rome, the ministry says. No cases have been reported so far. Posters at the airport advise travelers to consider delaying trips to the Wuhan area and if they do go there to avoid touching animals or uncooked animal products.