PARALIMNI, Cyprus – A British teenager who is charged with falsely accusing a group of Israeli youths of gang rape testified Tuesday that she was indeed gang-raped, and was pressured by police to retract her claims.
In her first court testimony in the case, the 19-year-old woman said the Cypriot police had exerted great pressure on her to withdraw her rape complaint and sign a confession that she had accused the Israelis falsely. When asked if she was in fact raped on the night in question, she said she was.
She said police threatened her, and she believed she wouldn’t be allowed to leave the police station if she didn’t sign the confession, and added that she had genuinely feared for her life.
On July 27, 10 days after the night on which she said she was raped and while the Israelis were still in detention in Cyprus, she got a phone call from the female police officer who had been dealing with her complaint, the British woman recounted. The officer said her colleagues wanted to speak to her, and later called back to say they were waiting for her in the lobby of the hotel.
When she went down to see them, the police took her to the police station “Something felt off, it felt strange. They weren’t talking to me,” she said.
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At the station, two policemen and a policewoman asked her questions. It was very “fast-paced,” she said.
Then, she said, one of the policemen, Marios Christou, said he had video from the night of July 17 which showed that she’d had consensual group sex with the Israelis. “I stood up and asked, ‘Where is this coming from? It can’t be true.’
“He said it was very clear there was no rape,” she continued. “I was crying. I didn’t understand what was going on. They kept asking me to say there wasn’t a rape.”
At that point, she said, she left the room because she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. When she came back, Christou continued telling her she hadn’t been raped.
As part of her court testimony, she produced text messages that she had sent to her mother and friends from the police station via Snapchat. She said she sent the messages during her interrogation by holding the phone under the table so the policemen couldn’t see.
In one message, she wrote that she thought they were going to arrest her. In another, replying to the question of what she was doing in the police station, she said she didn’t know, but she was afraid.
She testified that when she told Christou that she was entitled to a lawyer, he replied, “Maybe in the U.K., not here.”
At that point, she said, she was alone in the room with Christou. He kept asking her why she had invented the rape story and insisting that she hadn’t been raped. He also mentioned two of her friends, and she said she feared they would be arrested.
Christou then said “that because of all these so-called videos, he was going to arrest me if I didn’t say that I had lied and that I would not see my mum until I was in handcuffs in a court.
“I was messaging my mum, I was messaging my friends, saying they are forcing me to sign these false statements. I need help.
“They said they would arrest me if I didn’t say I had lied,” she testified. “I was so scared, I didn’t think I would leave that station without signing that statement.
“I told my friend I was scared for my life,” she added.
In her testimony, the British woman repeatedly returned to the way the Cypriot police pressured her to sign the confession. She said at first she refused, but “they became aggressive.”
She said that after they read her rights to her, she again asked for a lawyer, but they refused. “I realized at this point that the police were completely against me,” she said.
When her lawyer, Ritza Pekri, asked her whether she had been raped, she said, “Yes.”
Before the woman testified, the court heard testimony from police investigators and a social worker who was present at some of her meetings with the police.
Christou told the court the woman had told him of being raped at age 13 by a close friend. She didn’t report the rape to the police, but did see a psychologist, he said.
Christou said she also told him the psychologist had said at the time that she might be suffering from PTSD, but declined to give him the psychologist’s name.
Christou testified that he had asked her whether she reported the alleged gang rape to collect insurance, and she said no, adding that her family is wealthy.
In response to a question from one of the woman’s lawyers, he said he didn’t record the interrogation, because he can’t record everything.
Following the hearing, another member of the woman’s defense team, Michael Polak of Justice Abroad, said the text messages she sent to her friends prove that she was under pressure while she was at the police station.
The woman will continue her testimony on Wednesday, and will then be cross-examined. A psychologist was supposed to have testified to the court by video conference about her PTSD, but that has been postponed due to technical difficulties.
The woman is charged with making a false criminal complaint. She spent about a month in jail before being released on bail in late August, but the court rejected her request to leave Cyprus.