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Cyprus court finds British teen guilty of false rape claim

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Paralimni (Cyprus) (AFP)

A court in Cyprus on Monday found a British teenager guilty of falsely claiming she was gang-raped by a group of Israeli tourists in a case that prompted allegations of police mistreatment.

The 19-year-old was convicted of "public mischief", which carries a sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of around 1,700 euros. Sentencing was adjourned until January 7.

The defendant, who pleaded not guilty, alleged that 12 Israelis raped her on July 17 at a hotel in Ayia Napa.

But the Israelis, aged 15 to 18, were released without charge the same month after the woman was arrested on suspicion of "making a false statement about an imaginary crime".

"The statements you have given were false," the judge told the woman at the Famagusta District Court in Paralimni in southeast Cyprus in remarks translated by an interpreter.

She appeared frustrated by the delay to the sentencing, telling her lawyer: "He already made his decision! I thought we were asking for a fine."

- 'Many violations' -

The defence said it would lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court.

"We believe there have been many violations in the procedure and the rights of fair trial have been violated," the woman's lawyer, Nicoletta Charalambidou, said.

Rights groups argued the teenager has suffered humiliation and been mistreated by the police and media.

They have called for an investigation into police handling of the case and criticised the way rape cases and victims are treated in Cyprus.

More than a dozen women from an association for the protection of women attended court wearing white scarves with an image of lips sewn shut printed on them.

As the defendant was led from the court with her face blindfolded to shield her identity 20 protesters chanted: "We are with you" and "We believe you".

"The way the case of this young lady was handled by the police and Cyprus government was wrong," said one of the demonstrators, Maria Mappouridou.

Another protester, Helena Gonata, said "everyone will find a reason not to believe her. That's the case with rape -- no one will believe you."

"We're trying to encourage women to talk. Many women are afraid to come forward."

The woman's lawyers had claimed she was pressured into signing a retraction written by a detective.

But the judge said during the trial that police had acted properly at all times, with no pressure exerted to change the woman's mind about her initial rape claim.

The defendant had said police were "hostile and negative" and asked her to sign a statement she had not seen.

British legal aid group Justice Abroad, which is supporting the woman, said the defence would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

"Despite the setback today, the teenager who has spent over a month in prison and six months where she has been unable to leave Cyprus is determined for justice to be done in her case as well as to help change the culture towards victims of sexual offences in Cyprus," Justice Abroad's Michael Polak said in a statement.

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