Proper procedures would have protected both suspect and police in Napa rape claim case
By Evie Andreou
The guilty verdict this week of a young British woman for causing public mischief over lying about being raped by 12 Israeli teens in Ayia Napa has cast a harsh spotlight on Cyprus’ police and judicial procedures.
A deluge of criticism from abroad and increasingly at home focuses on the fact that the then 18-year-old was interrogated for eight hours last July by male police officers without a lawyer present and without the proceedings being recorded in any way.
This meant there was only the police’s word that she had volunteered the statement recanting her rape claim. The woman and her defence team insisted that this statement, which formed the plank of the prosecution’s case of the public mischief charge brought against her, was made under duress and against her will. She said the confession was forced out of her by the case investigator, Marios Christou.
The woman was convicted on Monday of a single count of public mischief by the Famagusta District Court in Paralimni after judge Michalis Papathanasiou said prosecutors had proved her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. She faces a year in jail and a €1,700 fine.
The young woman’s defence team has said they would appeal after her sentence is announced on Tuesday, citing violations of the procedure and of their client’s right to a fair trial, all of which they focused on during her court case.
That the now 19-year-old was not offered access to a lawyer during that first interrogation has flabbergasted the critical British media especially as EU directives on this point are in place.
According to one of the woman’s lawyers, Nicoletta Charalambidou, Cyprus has introduced into its legislation the EU directive on the right of access to a lawyer. This states that anyone considered as a suspect of any offence has the right to have a lawyer from the very beginning, and if they cannot afford a lawyer, the state should provide one.
She added that suspects also have the right to be informed of their rights and have an interpreter if they need one.
But like many other EU directives it’s not the ratification that counts but the implementation.
“Cyprus is champion when it comes to ratifying directives and conventions, but it is lagging in their application,” Charalambidou told the Sunday Mail.
She said her client had entered the police station last July 27 at around 5pm as a victim and left in the early hours of the next day as a suspect of an offence.
The lack of a lawyer and the length of her interrogation meant that her confession “was taken under pressure”, said Charalambidou.
A police source told the Sunday Mail that the woman never asked for a lawyer.
Former attorney-general Alecos Markides told the Sunday Mail that it was still common practice for police not to allow lawyers to be present during the interrogation of their clients.
But he added that the fact that the 19-year-old was kept as long as eight hours in a police station without a lawyer meant “the issue has now taken other dimensions”.
Markides, along with another former attorney-general Petros Clerides and former justice minister Kypros Chrystostomides, has been extremely critical of the handling of the issue and called on the present attorney-general Costas Clerides as far back as last November to drop the case.
Charalambidou said this lack of legal access was indeed the case until a few years ago but then EU regulations were introduced and supposedly adopted.
“But the important thing is that the suspects need to know they have the right to a lawyer from the very beginning,” she said, adding that some lawyers still don’t know their clients have the right to their presence during the interrogation procedure.
The second omission that has stunned overseas onlookers is that the woman’s interrogation was not taped. Recording the police interview is the first thing seen on any TV cop show and the aim is to protect both police and suspect and leave no doubt as to the way the interrogation has been carried out. It would have proved invaluable in establishing what took place during the around eight hours the woman was interrogated.
But the questioning that night was not recorded because there is no such requirement under current Cypriot law.
The police source told the Sunday Mail that testimonies in Cyprus can only be recorded in cases of minors concerning domestic violence and sexual abuse. The law does not provide for recording testimonies in cases of adults. Eighteen at the time of her interrogation, the woman had missed that protection.
Charalambidou said that although there is no standard procedure among EU countries in terms of recording testimonies from adults, Cypriot police are obliged to keep records of each interrogation procedure such as the time they take place and, of course, make clear suspects are informed of their rights.
This was not the case when it came to her client she said.
Charalambidou said it was time “a proper procedure was introduced to ensure the rights of suspects”, adding that this would also protect the police if they were accused of mishandling suspects during interrogations.
Markides said it would need research and more staff and equipment.
And then there is the form of the confession in which the women retracted the rape claim.
In court last November, the defence called language expert Dr Andrea Nini who testified it was unlikely the retraction was written by a native English speaker.
This was taken up again by the British newspaper the Daily Mail this week which quoted sections of the confession.
The confession reads: ‘The report I did on the 17th of July 2019 that I was raped at ayia napa was not the truth. The truth is that I wasnt raped and everything that happened in that appartment (sic) was with my consent.
‘The reason I made the statement with the fake report is because I did not know they were recording & humiliating me that night I discovered them recording me doing sexual intercourse and I felt embarrassed so I want to appologise (sic), say I made a mistake.’
As she had in court, Nini reiterated to the Daily Mail it was “highly unlikely” someone of the defendant’s background would have composed the statement in that way.
She said that she believes that the confession was dictated by a local police officer, arguing among other things that “doing sexual intercourse” is not something a native English speaker would say, while the 19-year-old would use the word ‘flat’ instead of apartment. The spelling mistakes for someone of the woman’s educational background were also an issue.
Nini said she was surprised the Cypriot judge ruled the student had written the statement freely.
The police source insisted the woman wrote the testimony on her own.
According to the same source, when a suspect decides to give their confession, they can either write it themselves, or dictate to a police officer. The defence claims that in this case, the investigating officer Christou dictated to the woman what to say, and that, under duress, that is what she did.
For Markides, the issue is not so much procedure as whether it should have ever gone to court. He said that from the moment the young woman retracted her accusations thus, “actively showing remorse”, they should have just let her go.
“Due to her age, maybe she was confused, they should have let her go, instead, they remembered there is a ‘public mischief’ offence,” he said.
“Had the procedure been interrupted all this would not have taken place,” Markides told the Sunday Mail. “We have allowed for Cyprus’ judicial system to be called into questioning.”
Attorney-general Costas Clerides had reportedly dismissed the three former officials’ request to drop the case, arguing that the outcry was not due to the decision to prosecute the young woman, but the accusations made by her against the law enforcement authorities.
The head of the Bar Association Doros Ioannides was reluctant to comment on police procedures in the case, saying the issue should be sorted out in court.
“She has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court which will rule on whether her right to a fair trial was violated,” he told the Sunday Mail.
He said Cyprus follows all rules and laws and EU directives as regards the judicial system “to the letter”.
“This state has laws and it is unacceptable to attack a judge like that. Our constitution gives her the right to appeal,” Ioannides said.
On Tuesday, government spokesman Kyriacos Koushios said the government has full confidence in the judiciary and the courts while Clerides argued that any intervention by him would be an obstacle to the establishment of the facts.
Clerides added that since the defendant had made serious allegations against the investigating authorities over whether her deposition was willingly given, these claims should not be left hanging but should be left to be decided by the court.