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Israel teens cleared of Cyprus gang rape could face criminal investigation

19-year-old British girl being arrested in Cyprus [Twitter]

Twelve Israeli teenagers cleared of gang raping a 19-year-old British girl at a holiday resort in Cyprus could now face a criminal investigation back in Israel.

Israel Police is considering opening a criminal investigation into the teens – who were accused and subsequently cleared of gang raping an unnamed British teenager in their hotel room in the Cypriot resort town of Aya Napa last month – after they circulated a video of the alleged attack online.

In 2014, Israel passed a law banning the circulation of "revenge porn", a phenomenon in which images or videos of a sex act are distributed online without the consent of the person featured. The law states that anyone found guilty of posting such content online will be prosecuted as sex offenders, with the offence punishable by up to five years in prison.

In the weeks following the alleged rape, videos of the British teen were seemingly circulated via popular messaging service WhatsApp and on pornography websites, before being seized by Cypriot police to be used as evidence.

Though the circulation of revenge porn is not illegal in Cyprus, the teens – all aged 15 to 18 – could now face a criminal investigation in Israel after 20 local activists filed a complaint on behalf of the British teen.

The complaint stated: "It's not okay that Israeli citizens should take part in hurting a woman while abroad, breaking the law, and not be questioned or held accountable for it."

"Distributing an intimate video of someone without their permission is a crime that carries a five-year sentence," the complaint continued, adding that the Israelis "trampled [the British teen's] rights, and the Israeli police has the responsibility to investigate this matter and bring those responsible to justice".

Responding to the complaint, an Israel Police official told Israel's Channel 12 News on Monday that the matter is being "thoroughly examined by the legal department to see if police here have the authority to investigate an incident that happened abroad, and if so, how it would be carried out."

The probe could require the cooperation of the Cypriot authorities, though it is not yet clear whether this cooperation will be forthcoming.

READ: Israel settler charged with sexually abusing 105 girls 

The alleged incident and subsequent handling of the affair by Cypriot authorities has sparked outrage both in Israel and the UK, anger which was fuelled further by the boys' early release and the hero's welcome they received upon their return to Israel.

Five of the accused teens were released hours prior to their second scheduled court hearing due to a lack of evidence, before being quickly returned to Israel.

The remaining seven were subsequently released after the British teen recanted her original testimony, claiming that she had engaged in consensual sex with some members of the group but felt "angry and insulted" that the boys had filmed the encounter. She now faces up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine for misleading local authorities.

The Israelis were greeted by fanfare and celebration upon their return to Israel's Ben Gurion Airport. As the Times of Israel reported at the time, the "teens were jubilant when they were greeted by their cheering families" and "loudly celebrated their release by opening champagne bottles, chanting 'Am Yisrael Chai' [the people of Israel live] along with 'the Brit is a whore'."

The teens did not express any regret about the incident, with one telling Hebrew-language media: "I feel great. The truth came out and I am happy." Another teen called his release "a miracle from God" and vowed to sue the British teen for libel.

READ: Israel Police repeatedly refuse to hear testimony of Palestinian accused of rape

The British teen has since claimed she was forced to recant her testimony under pressure from Cypriot authorities. According to an exclusive report by UK newspaper the Sun earlier this month, the teen was denied access to a lawyer and pressurised to withdraw her complaint by Cypriot detectives, who threatened to arrest her friends for "conspiracy" if she did not comply.

"The teenager claims officers then dictated a statement in which she admitted faking allegations," the British daily added, "and she reluctantly signed only because she was exhausted after eight hours at the police station."

Earlier this month, the teen's defence lawyer Andreas Pittadjis resigned and asked to be relieved of his duties, citing a "serious disagreement" with the British girl over how to handle the case.

Pittadjis told reporters that his resignation should not be connected to whether the girl is guilty or not guilty, stressing "this would be prejudicial to her defence, and unfair to her as well". He did not, however, provide any more details about the apparent disagreement.

UK lawyer Lewis Power and Cypriot lawyer Nicoletta Charalambidou are now slated to represent the British teen, while court proceedings have been adjourned until 27 August to give the defence team time to prepare.

READ: Palestinian wrongly accused of child rape to sue Israel Police

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