Five Israeli suspects were charged on Monday in Cyprus over the gang rape of a British woman earlier this month, Hebrew-language media reported. Cypriot police said that the trial will begin on October 5, when the defendants will enter pleas to charges including rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and abduction.
The indictment was examined by a three-judge panel at the Famagusta District Court ahead of a hearing on the potential extended detention of the suspects, according to multiple reports.
Defense lawyers objected to a prosecution request for the suspects to remain in custody until the trial begins. The court was to rule Tuesday on whether to keep the suspects in detention or release them.
If found guilty of rape, the suspects could face life sentences.
All of the suspects, aged 19-20, are from the northern Israeli town of Majd al-Krum.
The five have been held since September 4 after a 20-year-old British tourist told police she was taken “by force” from the pool area of a hotel during a party, and then raped by several men in a room.
The woman has since returned to the United Kingdom and is being represented by Michael Polak of the Justice Abroad group, the same lawyer who represented another British woman who in 2019 accused a group of Israelis of rape.
Polak was in court to represent the woman’s interests at the detention hearing, the Walla news site reported.
Yannis Habaris, a lawyer representing three of the suspects, said there are “many contradictory” points which “undermine the veracity of the claims” in the alleged victim’s statement to police.
Habaris said his clients will plead not guilty to the charges because “as things now stand, we don’t think that any crime has been committed.” The three suspects say that while they had contact with the woman, it was consensual, Walla reported.
Attorney Nir Yaslovitz is representing the two remaining suspects, who claim that they had no contact with the woman at all. He didn’t immediately respond to attempts for comment. Yaslovitz was also involved in the 2019 case.
According to Israeli reports, the woman was able to pick out the suspects from a lineup and tell investigators what each one of them had done during the alleged sexual assault.
A sixth Israeli was also initially arrested, but was later released after police confirmed he was not in the room during the alleged assault.
The Kan public broadcaster reported that the man who was released and has since returned to Israel claims that he had video that would prove the innocence of the suspects being held. According to the man’s lawyer, he deleted the video in question from his phone, but was working to recover the file.
The Walla news site said Monday that no charges have been filed in connection with the alleged filming of the assault.
The woman told police that on September 3, she struck up a conversation with one of the suspects by the pool at the Federania Gardens hotel in Ayia Napa. The man then pulled her by the arm to the room, and when inside, tried to remove her swimsuit, she claimed.
According to Walla, the woman said she resisted, but two more men appeared and the three suspects then raped her. The woman said she heard other people entering and leaving the room during the alleged assault, but was not sure how many there were in total.
The woman said she eventually managed to escape to the room’s bathroom, where she locked the door, got dressed and began screaming for help, Walla reported. The suspects told her to keep quiet but she emerged from the bathroom and fled the room, found her friends and told them what happened. They then called the police.
Officers who were called to the scene found the woman in a “distressed state,” but she was still able to direct them to the room in the hotel, the report said.
Investigators removed evidence from the room, including sheets, and examined both the woman and the suspects. DNA samples was also taken from both the woman and her alleged assailants. Leaked reports of the investigation said blood was found in the room and the woman had bruises and abrasions on her arms.
In the 2019 case, which made international headlines, the woman alleged that she was raped by up to 12 Israeli tourists, aged 15 to 22, in a hotel room in the seaside holiday resort of Ayia Napa. She was 18 at the time.
The Israeli teenagers and young men denied any wrongdoing and were eventually released from custody and allowed to return home. More recently, calls have grown for the rape case to be reopened.
Cyprus is a popular destination for Israeli tourists. Official figures for July show they were the second largest group of visitors, accounting for 10.2 percent, or more than 46,400 arrivals, second only to the United Kingdom, which made up 34.8 percent of arrivals.