The British teenager convicted of lying about being gang-raped by a group of Israeli tourists was due to fly home later on Tuesday after she was handed a suspended four-month jail sentence.
The 19-year-old’s defence team immediately said they would appeal the conviction at the supreme court – and demanded that the process for this be expedited.
Her highly controversial trial caused an outcry in Britain and the judge had to raise his voice to be heard over the chants of her supporters outside the courtroom in Paralimni.
“We want justice, we don’t want favours,” chanted the crowd of some 150 supporters, many of whom had flown in from Israel, joined by Cypriot women and some Britons.
This was a reference to reports that President Nicos Anastasiades would pardon her if the judge had jailed her. It meant she was hopeful she would be going home even before the judge entered the court.
Dressed in a black top and matching trousers, the teenager from Derbyshire smiled nervously at her mother as she awaited the judge’s arrival, occasionally twisting her long hair in her hands.
“If you cannot scream, we will scream for you,” came the easily audible chant from outside the court building. The crowd of protestors had a different message for the judge: “Mr judge, shame on you, don’t you have a daughter too?”
The press outside the courtroom (Christos Theodorides)
Judge Michalis Papathanasiou decided that the young Briton deserved a ‘second chance’ despite the ‘seriousness of her crime’.
Freeing her he said: “Her psychological state, her youth, that she has been away from her family, her friends and academic studies this year. This has led me to decide to give her a second chance and suspend the sentence for three years.”
She was also fined €140 for ‘court administrative costs’.
Papathanasiou had his head down as he delivered his monologue, but raised his head towards the end and said that “twelve innocents had their freedom curtailed, which added to the severity of the case.”
After the 15-minute court session, the girl’s mother appeared before the cheering crowd and said: “I just want to thank each and every one of you, for your help – for believing, it is so appreciated.” She wore a brooch given her by one of the protestors who had flown in from Israel.
One white-haired Israeli man said he had joined the overwhelmingly female supporters on the flight from Tel Aviv because “the British teenager has shown bravery and courage, in the British way.”
To protect her identity, the vulnerable teenager did not appear outside the court, but conveyed a message of gratitude to “everyone who has supported me in this case”. She added: “In particular, I want to thank my wonderful parents.”
A British lawyer for the girl then read a statement insisting his client was the victim of a “premeditated gang rape” by a group of Israeli youths in July and that they would appeal her guilty verdict, which caused an outcry in Britain when it was issued last week.
“This girl was stripped both of her dignity and her human rights,” Lewis Power QC said, reading a statement before British and Israeli television cameras on the steps of the court building.
He praised the girl’s “immense bravery” in undergoing a lengthy trial which she could have avoided had she not insisted her “confession” was made under duress.
“Whilst we welcome the fact that the sentence imposed today allows her to go home, we strongly contest the conviction and the fight for her innocence will go on regardless.”
He said they would appeal the conviction and were prepared to take it all the way to the European court of human rights if necessary.
“She has been diagnosed with severe PTSD and this case has resulted in the deterioration of her mental health,” he said.
“This case has far-reaching repercussions for women travelling abroad and has highlighted the need for appropriate representation. This young woman has shown immense bravery, courage and fortitude in coming forward”.
He said the woman’s identity had been compromised and she had been trolled viciously on social media and subjected to vile comments.
“Some of those who perpetrated this serious sexual assault returned to their homeland bragging triumphantly and unashamedly as to what they had done to her, compounding her trauma.”
The case has been highly controversial from the outset with not just the British media but also the British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab who raised “serious concerns” over the treatment of the teenager with the Cypriot authorities.
Raab said on Tuesday he was relieved she would be returning home after being barred from leaving the island.
“We will be following up on some of the issues in relation to the case, I spoke to the Cypriot foreign minister about that,” he said, adding there was no immediate plan to change the travel advice to Cyprus.
Lawyer Lewis Power and the mother of the young woman after her daughter’s sentencing (Christos Theodorides)A heavy police presence kept order at the tiny court in Paralimni, which looked more like a block of flats.
The teenager claimed she was raped by up to 12 Israeli tourists in a hotel room in Ayia Napa on July 17.
She was charged, while the young men, aged between 15 and 20, who were arrested over the incident, were freed after she signed a retraction statement 10 days later.
The woman spent around a month in prison in a shared jail cell with eight others before being granted bail in August. She was then forced to stay in Cyprus until the public mischief trial was completed.
She maintains she was raped after having consensual sex with one of the Israelis but was forced to change her account under pressure from Cypriot police.
The case hinged on a retraction statement signed by the teenager following up to seven hours of questioning alone and without legal representation.
A heavy police presence kept order at the tiny court in Paralimni.
Amongst the protesters, journalists, camera crew and police was Akel MP Skevi Koukouma who said: “I felt an obligation personally for the women that are facing rape or abuse in any way to be here today.”
Speaking to Israeli protesters there was a clear sense of frustration as to how the trial unfolded.
“It’s a stain and a shame on Israel what has happened,” an elderly Israeli man told the Cyprus Mail.
He flew over from Israel and even spoke with the British teenager’s mother.
“At first we weren’t so sure. We were happy to have our boys home – that was the public mood in Israel. But then as details came out and we found out more then opinion changed,” he said.
“Unfortunately Israel has not done the correct thing. The video sharing is also a crime in Israel, but it looks like nothing will happen,” he added.
He was referring to the intimate videos of the woman taken by the boys that went viral on social media.
Sigal Kook Avivi, an Israeli human rights activist, said: “We are very worried that the conviction stands because it opens the door for the Israelis to sue her if they want to.
“This is not an isolated case. We believe it has lessons for what happens to women all around the world,” Avivi said.
Others have expressed concern that Tuesday’s sentence will prevent women in Cyprus from reporting rapes.
But Israeli lawyer Nir Islovich, who represented four of the 12 men in the case, welcomed the decision. “What was important to us was that she would be convicted of the charges brought against her,” he said.
“That happened with full adoption of the facts as presented by my clients. As for clemency, we strongly oppose it and will act against it if she will not express genuine remorse.”
At the same time, the outcome did little to quell the outrage of women’s rights campaigners on social media, one of whom described as “grotesque” the judge’s decision to give the British teenager “a second chance” when they insisted she had not been given a first chance – and was in fact the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Author, broadcaster and star columnist for The Times (London) Caitlin Moran, who is married to a Greek Cypriot in London, told her 817,700 followers on Twitter that: “My teenage daughters are half Greek-Cypriot, and there’s no WAY I’d take them back there on holiday with the justice system this catastrophically biased and flawed. That verdict means Cyprus isn’t safe for women.”