Austrian court convicts 8 Iraqi men in tourist's gang rape

A defendant covers his face at the beginning of his trial on gang-raping a German tourist in Vienna, Austria, Thursday, March 2, 2017. Eight Iraqi nationals have been given jail sentences of between nine and 13 years. (AP Photo/Philipp Jenne)
A defendant covers his face as he is lead out of the court room after his trial on gang-raping a German tourist in Vienna, Austria, Thursday, March 2, 2017. Eight Iraqi nationals have been given jail sentences of between nine and 13 years. (AP Photo/Philipp Jenne)

VIENNA — An Austrian court found eight Iraqi nationals guilty on Thursday of gang-raping a German tourist on New Year's Eve more than a year ago and sentenced them to prison terms of between nine and 13 years.

Charges against a ninth suspect were dismissed, said a court statement. The victim — a 28-year-old woman — was awarded 25,000 euros (over $26,000) in damages.

Both sides were appealing the decision, the statement said.

All nine Iraqi men, who ranged in age from 22 to 48, came to Austria as migrants between May and December 2015. Five subsequently were given refugee status.

The prosecution argued that the eight men convicted exploited the fact that the victim had been drinking heavily on Dec. 31, 2015 and was unable to defend herself.

Rape is punishable by a maximum 15-year prison term in Austria. Explaining the verdict and sentencing, Judge Petra Poschalko said that only two of the defendants had helped the court establish the facts and only one had confessed.

The court heard testimony that four of the men took the woman to a Vienna apartment where they were joined by the others and that all took turns raping her. When the alcohol started wearing off, she found herself naked in a bed.

Rape is punishable by a maximum 15-year prison term in Austria. Explaining the verdict and sentencing, Judge Petra Poschalko said that only two of the defendants had helped the court establish the facts and only one had confessed.

Defense lawyer Andreas Reichenbach observed that the gang rape was committed at around the same time as the high-profile sexual assaults in Cologne by groups of migrants.

Reichenbach suggested the sentences imposed Thursday served in part as an "additional message" for asylum-seekers.

"As we all know, asylum-seekers don't have the best image here in Austria," he said. "I think that this surely played a certain role, to make it clear to these people that when they come to Austria that such behavior won't be tolerated," he said.

All but one of the defendants denied raping the woman. Some acknowledged having sex with her, but argued it had been consensual.

Prosecutor Karina Fehringer said that was impossible, describing the victim as being defenseless in an "unconscious, shock-rigid" state.

Fehringer said the victim continues to suffer post-traumatic effects from the assault and requires psychiatric treatment.

The defense argued that the victim might have sent "false signals" that could have encouraged the men.

Noting that the woman was extremely intoxicated, Fehringer was quoted by the Austria Press Agency as asking: "Should we stick warnings on bottles: 'Excess consumption could be interpreted as agreement to have sex?'"

Charges were dismissed against the 48-year-old defendant, who said he had been asleep during the assaults.

Migrants and refugees from other countries expressed concern that the crime will make Austrians hostile toward all newcomers.

"Eight people raping a woman — that's honor-less! Such a thing doesn't exist in our religion," Burhan Akbas, a migrant from Turkey, said.

"When such people come here and screw up like that, then everybody will think that Chechens, Afghans, all refugees from war areas are all the same," Mansur Salamou, an asylum-seeker from Chechnya, said. "But it's not like that. For example, the majority of us — we also cause problems, commit crimes. But no rape! Only criminal assaults and robberies."

___

Associated Press video journalist Philipp-Moritz Jenne contributed.

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