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Sunday, January 5, 2020

World News, World News Updates, World News Headlines, Latest World News, Current Affairs

World News, World News Updates, World News Headlines, Latest World News, Current Affairs

More U.S. Troops Deploy to Mideast Amid Tensions With Iran

Posted: 04 Jan 2020 01:23 PM PST

(FORT BRAGG, N.C.) — Hundreds of U.S. soldiers deployed Saturday from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Kuwait to serve as reinforcements in the Middle East amid rising tensions following the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general.

Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division, told The Associated Press 3,500 members of the division’s quick-deployment brigade, known officially as its Immediate Response Force, will have deployed within a few days. The most recent group of service members to deploy will join about 700 who left earlier in the week, Burns said.

A loading ramp at Fort Bragg was filled Saturday morning with combat gear and restless soldiers. Some tried to grab a last-minute nap on wooden benches. Reporters saw others filing onto buses.

The additional troop deployments reflect concerns about potential Iranian retaliatory action in the volatile aftermath of Friday’s drone strike that killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force who has been blamed for attacks on U.S. troops and American allies going back decades.

President Donald Trump ordered the airstrike near Baghdad’s international airport. Iran has vowed retribution, raising fears of an all-out war, but it’s unclear how or when a response might come.

Reporters weren’t able to interview the soldiers leaving Fort Bragg on Saturday, but an airman loading one of the cargo planes told an Army cameraman he was making New Year’s plans when he got a call to help load up the soldiers, according to video footage released by the military.

“We’re responsible for loading the cargo. Almost our whole squadron got alerted. Like a bunch of planes are coming over here,” the unnamed airman said. “I was getting ready to go out for New Year’s when they called me.”

In the gray early morning light Saturday, Army video showed soldiers dressed in camouflage fatigues filing into planes, carrying rucksacks and rifles. Humvees were rolled onto another cargo plane and chained in place for the flight to the Middle East.

Burns said the soldiers within the Immediate Response Force train constantly to be ready to respond quickly to crises abroad. When called by their superiors, they have two hours to get to base with their gear and must maintain a state of readiness so that they can be in the air headed to their next location within 18 hours.

“So whether they were on leave, whether they were home drinking a beer, whether they were, you know, hanging out, throwing the kids up in the yard, you get the call and it’s time to go,” he said.

He said that soldiers typically keep individual “go-bags” of their personal gear with them at their living quarters.

The wife of a member of the 82nd Airborne who deployed earlier this week said his departure was so abrupt she didn’t have the chance to say goodbye in person or by phone.

April Shumard said she was at work on New Year’s Eve and he was watching their five children when he texted her that he had to rush to base. He wasn’t sure if it was a drill or a deployment. She said her husband has been in the military since 2010 and has already deployed twice to Afghanistan. But with those prior deployments, the family had much more time to prepare and say goodbye. This time, she got a second message confirming he was leaving, and he departed in a plane on the afternoon of New Year’s Day.

“The kids kept going, ‘When’s Dad going to be home?’” said Shumard, 42. “It’s literally thrown me for a loop. And him as well. He’s still in disbelief of where he’s gone. Our heads are spun.”

She said that Fayetteville is a tight-knit community, and she expects people to work together to support families who are suddenly missing a parent.

“This was so last-minute,” she said, urging people to reach out to 82nd Airborne families. “Just try to help out whoever you know who might need some babysitting or help or just get some groceries and bring it to their house.”


Drew reported from Durham, North Carolina.

Russia Resumes Oil Supplies to Belarus Amid Talks on Strengthening Economic Ties

Posted: 04 Jan 2020 12:15 PM PST

(MINSK, Belarus) — Belarus has reached an agreement with Russia for limited oil supplies after Moscow earlier this week stopped supplying crude amid stalled talks on strengthening economic ties between the neighboring countries.

Belarusian state-run oil company Belneftekhim said Saturday that the country’s refineries started receiving the first batch of crude oil, sufficient to ensure “non-stop operation of the country’s refineries in January 2020.”

Russian pipeline operator Transneft confirmed earlier on Saturday it would transfer 133,000 tons of oil to Belarus.

According to a statement from Belneftekhim, the oil would come at a discounted price while negotiations for resuming regular imports continue.

Russia stopped supplying oil to its post-Soviet neighbor after Dec. 31, as the two countries failed to renegotiate oil prices for this year amid stalled talks on further strengthening economic ties.

The suspension did not affect oil transit to Europe or the supply of natural gas but had consequences for Belarus. which relies on Russia for more than 80% of its overall energy needs.

The country’s two refineries were operating at low capacity, running on reserves. On Friday, Minsk announced it was suspending its own oil exports, which contribute up to 20% of annual GDP.

The Kremlin has recently increased pressure on Belarus, raising energy prices and cutting subsidies. It argues that Belarus should accept greater economic integration if it wants to continue receiving energy resources at Russia’s domestic prices.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko held two rounds of talks in December but failed to reach an agreement on the closer ties and on oil and gas prices.

Putin said Russia was not ready to “subsidize” energy supplies without more economic integration with ally Belarus. Lukashenko insisted he would not sign off on the integration until the issues with oil and gas supplies were resolved.

P!nk Joins Celebrities in Donating to Help Fight Australia’s Catastrophic Wildfires, Pledging to Give $500,000

Posted: 04 Jan 2020 10:14 AM PST

American musician P!nk has pledged to donate $500,000 to local fires services fighting Australia’s devastating wildfires, and other celebrities have announced plans to donate as well.

For months, Australia has been fighting the worst wildfires it’s experienced in decades, which scientists say have been intensified by climate change. At least 19 people have died, dozens are missing, hundreds of homes have been destroyed and, according to Bloomberg, nearly half a billion animals may have been killed. As TIME’s Amy Gunia reports, “The fire season in Australia is far from over, and already it is shaping up to be one of the most intense in the country’s history.”

On Saturday, P!nk posted on Twitter and Instagram: “I am totally devastated watching what is happening in Australia right now with the horrific bushfires.” She pledged to donate $500,000 to local fire services battling the bushfires, and asked others to consider donating as well.

For months, Australia has been fighting the worst wildfires it’s experienced in decades, which scientists say have been intensified by climate change. At least 19 people have died, dozens are missing, hundreds of homes have been destroyed and, according to Bloomberg, nearly half a billion animals may have been killed. As TIME’s Amy Gunia reports, “The fire season in Australia is far from over, and already it is shaping up to be one of the most intense in the country’s history.”

Australian comedian Celeste Barber has also repeatedly posted on social media about the fires. On Thursday, Barber posted a fundraising campaign on Facebook, writing, “Want to join me in supporting a good cause? I’m raising money for The Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund and your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate a lot or a little. Anything helps. Thank you for your support.”

Barber posted that her family on the South Coast has been told to evacuate.

In two days, donations from over 300,000 people raised more than $10 million.

American musician Selena Gomez also tweeted that she donated to help Australian fire services, writing, “Absolutely devastated by the fires in Australia. Praying for everyone affected and all of the first responders. I’m making a donation and would love if you would consider doing the same if you can.”

Australian model Miranda Kerr also asked her followers to “join her” in donating to fight the fires. Kerr posted on Instagram Friday, “Sending love and prayers to those affected by the Australia Wild Fires… Please join me in supporting those affected and visit the link in my bio to donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund. All donations will support affected families and the community during this disaster.”

As of Friday, the fires had burned more than 12 million acres and the smoke was so substantial it was visible from space.


U.S. Men’s Soccer Team Cancels Plan to Train in Qatar Amid Mideast Tensions

Posted: 04 Jan 2020 08:57 AM PST

(CHICAGO) — The U.S. men’s soccer team has canceled its plan to train in Doha, Qatar, from Jan. 5-25 “due to the developing situation in the region.”

The U.S. Soccer Federation announced the decision Friday, a day after a U.S. military air strike killed a top Iranian military commander.

The Americans will move training to a site in the United States that has not yet been determined. They will be use a roster of players mostly from Major League Soccer ahead of an exhibition against Costa Rica on Feb. 1 in Carson, California.

The USSF said it hopes to train in the future at Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup.

At Least 53 People Dead From Landslides, Flash Floods in Indonesia

Posted: 04 Jan 2020 07:39 AM PST

(JAKARTA, Indonesia) — Landslides and floods triggered by torrential downpours have left at least 53 people dead in and around Indonesia’s capital, as rescuers struggled to search for people apparently buried under tons of mud, officials said Saturday.

Monsoon rains and rising rivers submerged a dozen districts in the greater Jakarta area and caused landslides that buried at least a dozen people.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Agus Wibowo said the fatalities included those who had drowned or been electrocuted since rivers broke their banks early Wednesday after extreme torrential rains hit on New Year’s Eve. Three elderly people died of hypothermia.

It’s the worst flooding in the area since 2007, when 80 people were killed over 10 days.

Rescuers recovered more bodies as flash floods and mudslides destroyed Sukamulia village in Bogor district. They were searching for a villager who was missing in a landslide in Lebak, a district in neighboring Banten province, Wibowo said.

The number of fatalities was expected to increase, with rescuers and villagers also searching for at least three people believed to be buried in another landslide in Cigudeg village in Bogor district, said Ridwan, the village’s secretary, who goes by a single name.

Ridwan said bad weather, blackouts and mudslides were hampering rescue efforts. He said rescuers on Saturday managed to reach eight hamlets that had been isolated for days by cut-off roads and mudslides and rescued more than 1,700 villagers in weak condition.

Four days after the region of 30 million people was struck by flash floods, waters have receded in many middle-class districts, but conditions remained grim in narrow riverside alleys where the city’s poor live.

Government data showed that some 173,000 people were still unable to return home and were crammed at damp emergency shelters, mostly in the hardest-hit area of Bekasi. Much of the city was still submerged in muddy waters up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) high, according to the disaster agency.

Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said that more downpours were forecast for the capital in the coming days, and that the potential for extreme rainfall will continue until next month across the vast archipelago nation. The government on Friday started cloud seeding in an attempt to divert rain clouds from reaching greater Jakarta to prevent possible flooding, the agency said.

Indonesia is hit by deadly floods each year, and Jakarta, the capital of Southeast Asia’s largest economy, is not immune. But this year’s have been particulary bad, with about 397,000 people seeking refuge in shelters across the greater metropolitan area as floodwaters reached up to 6 meters (19 feet) in some places.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Calls Up Firefighter Reservists as Fire Threats Escalate

Posted: 04 Jan 2020 07:13 AM PST

(SYDNEY) — Australia’s prime minister called up about 3,000 reservists on Saturday as the threat of wildfires escalated in at least three states, while strong winds and high temperatures were forecast to bring flames to populated areas including the suburbs of Sydney.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 23 people had died in the wildfires so far this summer, including two in a blaze on a highway on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia state, the latest fatalities.

“We are facing another extremely difficult next 24 hours,” Morrison said at a televised news conference. “In recent times, particularly over the course of the balance of this week, we have seen this disaster escalate to an entirely new level.”

He also confirmed that his scheduled visits to India and Japan later this month have been postponed. He was due to visit India from Jan. 13 to 16 and Japan immediately afterward. Morrison came under fire for taking a family vacation in Hawaii as the wildfire crisis unfolded in December.

He said that the governor general had signed off on the calling up of reserves “to search and bring every possible capability to bear by deploying army brigades to fire-affected communities.”

Defense Minister Linda Reynolds said it was the first time that reservists had been called up “in this way in living memory and, in fact, I believe for the first time in our nation’s history.”

The government has committed 20 million Australian dollars ($14 million) to lease four fire-fighting aircraft for the duration of the crisis, and the helicopter-equipped HMAS Adelaide was deployed to assist evacuations from fire-ravaged areas.

The fire danger increased as temperatures rose to record levels across Australia on Saturday, surpassing 43 degrees Celsius (109 Fahrenheit) in Canberra, the capital, and reaching a record-high 48.9 C (120 F) in Penrith, in Sydney’s western suburbs.

As night approached, 3,600 firefighters were battling blazes across New South Wales. Power was lost in some areas as fires downed transmissions lines, and residents were warned that the worst may be yet to come.

“We are now in a position where we are saying to people it’s not safe to move, it’s not safe to leave these areas,” state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters. “We are in for a long night and I make no bones about that. We are still yet to hit the worst of it.”

The deadly fire on Kangaroo Island broke containment lines Friday and was described as “virtually unstoppable” as it destroyed buildings and burned through more than 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) of Flinders Chase National Park. While the warning level for the fire was reduced Saturday, the Country Fire Service said it was still a risk to lives and property.

The two men killed on Kangaroo Island were identified as Clayton Lang, 43, a leading plastic and reconstructive surgeon from Adelaide, and bush pilot and safari trip operator Dick Lang, 78.

New South Wales Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers warned that the fires could move “frighteningly quick.” Embers carried by the wind had the potential to spark new fires or enlarge existing blazes.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fizsimmons said the 264,000-hectare (652,000-acre) Green Wattle Creek fire in a national park west of Sydney could spread into Sydney’s western suburbs.

He said crews have been doing “extraordinary work” by setting controlled fires and using aircraft and machinery to try to keep the flames away.

Fitzsimmons called on residents and tourists in the path of the fires to evacuate as soon as possible.

“Our message has been to make sure you leave yesterday,” he said. “Leaving it until today is cutting it fine. The sooner you make that decision the better, and I would say do it now. Don’t leave it any longer because the window will shrink and will shrink very quickly.”

More than 130 fires were burning in New South Wales, with at least half of them out of control.

Firefighters were battling a total of 53 fires across Victoria state, and conditions were expected to worsen with a southerly wind change. About 900,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) of bushland has already been burned through.

In a rare piece of good news, the number of people listed as missing or unaccounted for in Victoria was reduced from 28 to six.

“We still have those dynamic and dangerous conditions — the low humidity, the strong winds and, what underpins that, the state is tinder dry,” Victoria Emergency Services Commissioner Andrew Crisp said.

Thousands have already fled fire-threatened areas in Victoria, and Crisp urged more people to leave. “If you might be thinking about whether you get out on a particular road close to you, well there’s every chance that a fire could hit that particular road and you can’t get out,” he said.

Victoria police reported heavy traffic flows on major roads and praised motorists for their patient and orderly behavior.

The early and devastating start to Australia’s summer wildfires has already burned about 5 million hectares (12.35 million acres) of land and destroyed more than 1,500 homes. More acres have burned so far than in any one year in the U.S. in around seven decades, when Harry S. Truman was president.


McMorran reported from Wellington, New Zealand.

Thousands in Iraq March in Funeral Procession for Iranian General Killed by U.S.

Posted: 04 Jan 2020 06:59 AM PST

(BAGHDAD) — Thousands took to the streets of Baghdad for the funeral procession of Iran’s top general Saturday after he was killed in a U.S. airstrike, as the region braced for the Islamic Republic to fulfill its vows of revenge.

The day of mourning in the Iraqi capital ended Saturday evening with a series of rockets that were launched and fell inside or near the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies, including the U.S. Embassy.

Iran has vowed harsh retaliation for the U.S. airstrike ordered early Friday by President Donald Trump that killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and mastermind of its regional security strategy, and several senior Iraqi militants. The attack has caused regional tensions to soar, raising fears of an all-out war, and tested the U.S. alliance with Iraq.

Trump says he ordered the strike, a high-risk decision that was made without consulting Congress or U.S. allies, to prevent a conflict. U.S. officials say Soleimani was plotting a series of attacks that endangered American troops and officials, without providing evidence.

Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s regional policy of mobilizing militias across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, including in the war against the Islamic State group. He was also blamed for attacks on U.S. troops and American allies going back decades.

Though it’s unclear how or when Iran may respond, any retaliation was likely to come after three days of mourning declared in both Iran and Iraq. All eyes were on Iraq, where America and Iran have competed for influence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

After the airstrike early Friday, the U.S.-led coalition has scaled back operations and boosted “security and defensive measures” at bases hosting coalition forces in Iraq, a coalition official said on the condition of anonymity according to regulations. Meanwhile, the U.S. has dispatched another 3,000 troops to neighboring Kuwait, the latest in a series of deployments in recent months as the standoff with Iran has worsened.

In a thinly veiled threat, one of the Iran-backed militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, called on Iraqi security forces to stay at least 1,000 meters (0.6 miles) away from U.S. bases starting Sunday night.

“The leaders of the security forces should protect their fighters and not allow them to become human shields to the occupying Crusaders,” the warning statement said, in reference to the coalition bases.

An Iraqi security official said there were no injuries reported from the series of rockets launched Sunday evening. A Katyusha rocket that fell inside a square less than one kilometer from the U.S. embassy, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. Another rocket in Baghdad landed about 500 meters from As-Salam palace where the Iraqi President Barham Salih normally stays in Jadriya, a neighborhood adjacent to the Green Zone, the official said.

Another security official said three rockets fell outside an air base north of Baghdad were American contractors are normally present. The rockets landed outside the base in a farm area and there were no reports of damages, according to the official.

Also on Saturday, a spokesman for the Iraqi armed forces said the movement of coalition forces, including U.S. troops, in the air and on the ground will be restricted, conditioned on receiving approval from Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the commander in chief of the armed forces.

It was not immediately clear what the new restrictions would mean, given that coalition troops were already subject to limitations and had to be coordinated with the Joint Operation Command of top Iraqi military commanders.

NATO temporarily suspended all training activities in Iraq due to safety concerns, Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said Saturday.

Iraq’s government, which is closely allied with Iran, condemned the airstrike that killed Soleimani, calling it an attack on its national sovereignty. Parliament is meeting for an emergency session Sunday, and the government has come under mounting pressure to expel the 5,200 American troops based in the country, who are there to help prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State group.

In Baghdad, thousands of mourners, mostly men in black military fatigues, carried Iraqi flags and the flags of Iran-backed militias that are fiercely loyal to Soleimani at Saturday’s ceremony. They were also grieving Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a senior Iraqi militia commander who was killed in the same strike.

The mourners, many of them in tears, chanted “No, No, America,” and “Death to America, death to Israel.” Mohammed Fadl, a mourner dressed in black, said the funeral is an expression of loyalty to the slain leaders. “It is a painful strike, but it will not shake us,” he said.

Helicopters hovered over the procession, which was attended by Abdul-Mahdi and leaders of Iran-backed militias. The procession later made its way to the Shiite holy city of Karbala, where the mourners raised red flags associated with unjust bloodshed and revenge.

The slain Iraqi militants will be buried in Najaf, while Soleimani’s remains will be taken to Iran. More funeral services will be held for Soleimani in Iran on Sunday and Monday, before his body is laid to rest in his hometown of Kerman.

The U.S. has ordered all citizens to leave Iraq and temporarily closed its embassy in Baghdad, where Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters staged two days of violent protests earlier this week in which they breached the compound. Britain and France have warned their citizens to avoid or strictly limit travel in Iraq.

No one was hurt in the embassy protests, which came in response to U.S. airstrikes that killed 25 Iran-backed militiamen in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. blamed the militia for a rocket attack that killed a U.S. contractor in northern Iraq.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have steadily intensified since Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal and restore crippling sanctions, which have devastated Iran’s economy and contributed to recent protests there in which hundreds were reportedly killed.

In an apparent effort to defuse tensions, Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, made an unplanned trip to Iran where he met with Rouhani and other senior officials.

Qatar hosts American forces at the Al-Udeid Air Base and shares a massive offshore oil and gas field with Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with various world leaders including Iraqi President Barham Salih, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, of the United Arab Emirates. “I reaffirmed that the U.S. remains committed to de-escalation,” Pompeo tweeted.

As threats of “harsh revenge” against the U.S. looms, major streets in Iran were filled Saturday with billboards and images of Soleimani, who was widely seen as a national icon and a hero of the so-called Axis of Resistance against Western hegemony.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Soleimani’s home in Tehran to express his condolences. “The Americans did not realize what a great mistake they made,” Rouhani said.

On the streets of Tehran, many mourned Soleimani.

“I don’t think there will be a war, but we must get his revenge,” said Hojjat Sanieefar. America “can’t hit and run anymore,” he added.

Another man, who only identified himself as Amir, was worried.

“If there is a war, I am 100% sure it will not be to our betterment. The situation will certainly get worse,” he said.

In a sign of his regional reach, supporters in Lebanon hung billboards commemorating Soleimani in Beirut’s southern suburbs and in southern Lebanon along the disputed border with Israel, according to the state-run National News Agency.

Both are strongholds of the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group, whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has close ties to Soleimani.

Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, including the territory’s Hamas rulers, opened a mourning site for the slain general and dozens gathered to burn American and Israeli flags.

The killing of Soleimani was “a loss for Palestine and the resistance,” said senior Hamas official Ismail Radwan.


El Deeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem, Jon Gambrell and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Zeina Karam in Beirut and Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip contributed.

‘Our Broken System Has Been Exposed.’ How a British Woman’s Rape Case in Cyprus Has Become a Rallying Cry for Activists

Posted: 04 Jan 2020 05:10 AM PST

“Exaggerated, confused, contradictory and incoherent.” With those words, a judge in a Cyprus courthouse on Dec. 30 dismissed the testimony of a 19-year-old British woman who said she had been forced to sign a retraction after reporting being raped by 12 Israeli men in the popular holiday resort town of Ayia Napa last summer. The judge instead found her guilty on a charge of public mischief, and she now awaits sentencing on Jan. 7.

Susana Pavlou, who attended the hearing in solidarity with the woman, says Judge Michalis Papathanasiou’s ruling was yet another example of the victim-blaming attitudes surrounding the case since the summer. “The way he made his judgement sounded entirely subjective,” says Pavlou, director of the Mediterranean Institute for Gender Studies, a Cyprus-based NGO focusing on women’s rights and gender equality. “No explanation was given about how he weighed the evidence and why he rejected the testimony of the young woman. We felt intensely that we were just hearing more of the same.”

The case has sparked an outcry in the U.K., where #IBelieveHer and #BoycottCyprus trended on Twitter as news of the decision spread. And in Cyprus, the young woman’s case has electrified women’s rights activists long fighting for reforms to the way authorities handle rape cases, and has prompted pleas for intervention from the country’s current Attorney General.

The woman, who has not been publicly identified, is now facing up to a year in jail in Cyprus and a fine of $1,500. She already spent more than a month in prison before being granted bail at the end of August, and has not been allowed to leave the island. “This woman has been punished enough,” Nicoletta Charalambidou, a Cyprus-based lawyer on her legal defense team, told TIME ahead of the sentencing on Jan. 7. “It’s brought a whole range of consequences into her life.”

From Victim to Suspect

On July 17, the young woman reported the crime to police just hours after the incident allegedly took place in her hotel room in Ayia Napa, where she had been on a working vacation. (Ayia Napa’s popularity as a tourist destination draws young people from across Europe to work there in hospitality industries over the busy summer season.) She told police that she had been raped by up to 12 young Israeli men; the same day, 12 men were arrested in connection with the complaint.

In an earlier court hearing in December, the woman said that she had initially agreed to consensual sex with one of the group. But the trial this week referred to a video recording of the incident, found on the phones of some of the Israeli men. The woman’s lawyers said that it showed her having consensual sex with one of the group, while telling the other men to leave as they attempted to enter the room. Judge Papathanasiou referred to the video in his decision, saying that the woman had felt “embarrassed” because of its existence and that was “the reason why she initially gave false statements.”

Ten days after the incident was reported, on July 27, the woman was asked to go to a local police station where she retracted her statement. She has since said that she was forced to do so by the Cyprus police, who deny the allegation. Michael Polak, director of Justice Abroad and part of the young woman’s legal team, says that the lack of footage from the police station in Cyprus likely contributed to this. “Nothing is caught on tape or video, so that creates an environment where people can be put under pressure.” According to lawyer Charalambidou, the young woman was also kept at the police station for eight hours without a lawyer on July 27, the day she retracted her statement, and was not properly informed of her rights. She also says that the woman’s right to interpretation and translation were violated. “It was never clear, and still not clear in my opinion, when she ceased to be a victim of a crime and became a suspect of another crime,” says Charalambidou. “She was asked to come into the police station on July 27 as a victim, and she came out as a suspect of committing the crime of public mischief. The line there is very blurred.”

The woman was arrested and detained immediately after retracting the statement, while the men, some of whom are minors, were released and returned home to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on July 29. A group of them were filmed and photographed popping champagne bottles while chanting “Am Yisrael Chai” (the people of Israel live) along with “the Brit is a whore,” according to local media.

The woman’s trial began at the start of October with the verdict delayed until Dec. 30. The 12 men were not required to give evidence at the trial — a decision Polak calls suprising. But a pathologist called to give evidence examined the woman’s injuries from photographs and found them consistent with her testimony. He also told the court that there was blood on a used condom found inside the hotel room, as well as DNA from three of the young men inside the condom. “He was quite clear with his evidence that it supported what she was saying,” says Polak.

However, the woman’s legal team say the judge did not want to link the rape case with the actual public mischief case, thus shutting down a major line of defense. “During the trial, the judge on a number of occasions said ‘It’s not about the rape, I don’t want to hear about the rape case,’ so he had closed his mind to one of the major elements,” says Polak. The BBC reported that as Papathanasiou delivered the verdict, he said that “there was no rape or violence,” and that police had thoroughly investigated the case, “making all necessary arrests.”

British woman found guilty of lying about gang rape in Cyprus, Paralimni
Katia Christodoulou—EPA-EFE/ShutterstockA British woman and alleged gang rape victim (C) reacts as she arrives at Famagusta District Court in Paralimni, Cyprus, on Dec. 30, 2019.

The woman is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, hallucinations, and a condition called hypersomnia that causes her to sleep for 18-20 hours a day, according to her mother. “She needs to get home as soon as possible so she can get the proper treatment,” says Polak. Her family has traveled from Britain to Cyprus to support her through the legal process, which has also led to the young woman losing her place at university. The family has started a crowdfunder to help with the high cost of legal fees.

As the case developed this week, so did diplomatic tensions, as U.K. government officials called the situation “deeply distressing.” The U.K. Foreign Office can get involved in cases abroad where they believe a British national’s human rights and right to a fair trial have been breached. On Dec. 30, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab expressed “serious concern” about the case and said that he will raise the matter with Cypriot authorities — a move the young woman’s family has welcomed.

Problems in the System

For those following the case in Cyprus closely, the verdict did not come as a surprise. “We knew it from July, when the accusation of rape came up, that the system would fail this woman,” says Zelia Gregoriou, associate professor at the University of Cyprus and founding member of the Network Against Violence Against Women, a group that demonstrated in solidarity with the woman at the courthouse earlier this week, wearing scarves around their faces with images of lips sewn shut. “Every rape claim is treated pre-emptively as a false rape claim, and that’s why we had to be there. It’s not the exception.” Gregoriou says female victims are often threatened by the police, and warned that they will be exposed and publicly humiliated.

Cyprus ratified the U.N. Convention on preventing and combating violence against women in 2017, six years after the treaty was opened for signature. Yet experts say its measures have not been fully implemented and that the country’s authorities are not doing enough to protect women and support survivors.

“This has been the year our broken system has been exposed, whether it’s the criminal justice system, whether it’s the social welfare system, whether it’s our victim support and protection system — this year has revealed just how broken it is,” says Pavlou. A 2014 E.U. survey found that 15% of women aged 18–74 years in Cyprus said they experienced intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. According to a 2018 Amnesty International report, Cyprus has the E.U.’s highest rate of reporting sexual violence to the police, yet experts say that the conviction rate in such cases is low, and that women are often not taken seriously by the authorities.

In June, the country was also rocked by the trial of its first ever known serial killer, when a Greek-Cypriot army officer was handed multiple life sentences for killing five foreign women and two of their children over the course of three years. As more details about the case emerged, questions were raised about the failure of the police to properly investigate the disappearances of these women. “The whole sequence of the various authorities and the way they treat violence against women is problematic,” says Charalambidou. “It’s not a surprise that this case [involving the British woman] is treated in the same way and the same manner.”

Experts say high numbers of cases involving rape and sexual assault drop out of the criminal justice system for a variety of reasons, including victims retracting their statements. Several studies have linked this trend to a lack of support for those who report rape and sexual assault. “Certainly, we don’t have specialized services, like rape crisis centers, so [the British woman] wasn’t offered them because they don’t exist,” Pavlou says.

Rallying Support

The case has energized local women’s rights activists in Cyprus, who say they felt a duty to protect the British woman from the outset of the case. In October, the Mediterranean Gender Institute complained to the country’s broadcast and journalism regulators about the victim-blaming narratives in the media coverage surrounding the case. On Dec. 15, the country’s Journalist Ethics Committee found that several media outlets had violated the young woman’s right to privacy, and that coverage included discrimination based on her gender. Pavlou says that if the sentencing on Jan. 7 is severe, her organization, along with other NGOs that form the Cyprus Women’s Lobby group, is prepared to appeal to the president of Cyprus to intervene.

As Tuesday’s sentencing approaches, Gregoriou plans to return to the courthouse along with several dozen demonstrators. She sees this case as part of a broader struggle in Cyprus. “We fight violence against the British woman and we fight violence against every woman,” says Gregoriou. And after a difficult year for women’s rights in the country, some are hopeful that this case can bring about much-needed change. “We do not have a culture of protest in Cyprus, but we’re seeing that come very much to the fore in recent months,” says Pavlou. “We won’t stay silent, women are speaking up, social media is on fire and that’s all very heartening for us.”

These acts of solidarity have helped give the young woman the strength to continue the case, according to her lawyer. “She feels very supported through social media and messages coming through from the local network in Cyprus, from Israel, from the U.K.,” says Charalambidou. The legal team is currently preparing the ground of appeal, and is willing to take the case to the Supreme Court in Cyprus and potentially the European Court of Human Rights — a lengthy procedure that could last for as many as four years.

“It’s a slow process, but our client definitely wants to pursue all available procedures to clear her name and fight for her rights,” says Charalambidou, who says it is a test case with the potential for impact on Cyprus’ justice system. “Our client is sending a message that she’s not only doing it for herself, but she believes that something has to change in the way that these kinds of cases are handled by states in general, not just in Cyprus.”