Ayia Napa in Cyprus is a booming tourist attraction that has been putting in effort to attract more British tourists and has succeeded ─ according to the resort’s Mayor, Yannis Karousos, Cyprus welcomes around 1.1 million British tourists each year, 8.5 per cent of whom go to Ayia Napa.
But Google Ayia Napa now and you will see headline upon headline recounting the horrific details of how a British teenager’s holiday to the tourist resort became a rape case. There is little doubt that this horrendous incident and how it was handled – referred to by UK journalists as a ‘miscarriage of justice’ – will damage Ayia Napa’s reputation, and arguably rightly so.
Basic protocols were not followed and there was massive violation of the victim’s rights
For those not familiar with the case, a young woman claimed she was gang-raped by 12 Israeli tourists on 17 July 2019 at the Pambos Napa Rocks Hotel in Ayia Napa, where she was staying. Ten days later, she retracted her case ─ this was allegedly under duress, with threats given by police during eight hours in police custody. During this time, she was allegedly denied access to a lawyer and an interpreter and even a visit to the toilet. The retraction resulted in the 18-year-old being found guilty of lying about being gang-raped and she was immediately put in prison, with sentencing deferred until today – 7 January. She has now been sentenced to four months in jail, suspended for three years.
The young woman said that the men who raped her filmed part of the encounter without her knowledge, and the video was later disseminated on social media. Even worse, while the men were initially arrested and remanded in custody, they said that the sex was consensual and the charges against them were dropped, leaving them free to fly home. Allegedly, at the airport, they chanted ‘the Brit is a whore’.
Cypriot police are facing accusations that they forced the girl to retract her statement in order to put a stop to a gang-rape trial that would have been harmful for the country’s tourism industry. Allegedly, there were also fears that the case could be harmful for Cyprus’ apparently very valuable ties to Israel. Michael Polak, Director of Justice Abroad, said: “There was definitely a lot of pressure on the police ─ Cyprus survives on tourism.”
Susana Pavlou, Director of the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies in Nicosia, said: “There are huge question marks over the police handling of the case. Basic protocols were not followed and there was massive violation of the victim’s rights. She not only retracted her claim, she was allowed to incriminate herself. It cannot be valid.”
This terrifying case demonstrates the lengths one country was prepared to go to in order to protect its reputation, placing its tourism statistics above the welfare of a young visitor. Protesters in the UK are calling for a boycott of tourism to Cyprus, something that is surely an inevitability in light of such a horrific case. In the age of social media, consumers and well wishers have more power than ever to spread awareness of cases such as these and declare solidarity, and any bad publicity that may have arisen from a gang-rape trial would surely pale in comparison to the negative PR from a perceived miscarriage of justice, especially one as cruel as this. At least in the first case, local authorities would have been able to say that they had done everything they could to punish the offenders, demonstrating a desire to make the area safer for young women.
As it stands, a terrible injustice has been done, and the fallout will more than likely drag on for significantly longer.