Sunday, October 7, 2012

Kenya ruling opens way for EOKA

A BRITISH court ruling on the right of three elderly Kenyans to pursue claims for damages years after their torture under British rule in the 1950s has opened the path for many veteran Cypriot EOKA fighters to follow suit.
Thassos Sophocleous, the 79-year-old head of the EOKA Veterans Association, said yesterday that the association has been monitoring the Kenyans’ case for some time and has already taken a number of steps to prepare for individual actions to be taken against the British colonial government’s torture of EOKA fighters in the 1950s.
“We have a very strong case,” he said. 
A British court ruled on Friday that the three Kenyans - now in their 70s and 80s - could pursue their claim for damages from London, after Britain had tried for three years to block their legal action. A fourth claimant has died since the legal action began.
Judge Richard McCombe reached the conclusion that a fair trial was still possible despite the alleged crimes having taken place more than half a century ago. 
“The documentation is voluminous... and the government and the military commanders seem to have been meticulous record-keepers,” said the judge. 
The claimants suffered castration, rape and beatings while in detention during a ruthless crackdown by British forces and their Kenyan allies on rebels from the Mau Mau movement fighting for land and freedom.
The trio want Britain to apologise and to fund welfare benefits for Kenyan victims of torture by colonial forces. 
A lawyer representing the claimants, Martyn Day said one could only hope the government did the “honourable thing” and resolve the claims instead of trying to wait them out. 
“There will undoubtedly be victims of colonial torture from Malaya to the Yemen, from Cyprus to Palestine who will be reading this judgement with great care,” he said. 
Speaking to the Sunday Mail, Sophocleous said the veterans association has been monitoring the Mau Mau case carefully, describing the latest developments as “positive”. In collaboration with lawyers in Cyprus and England, the association has already begun preparing civil actions against the British government on behalf of EOKA fighters tortured during the violent struggle to end British rule in Cyprus and unite the island with Greece.
“We’ve already taken plenty of steps. Our law office is collecting evidence from EOKA fighters. We sent questions to people and many have responded,” said Sophocleous.
“We believe we have a lot of evidence, a lot of testimony. Certain cases are very strong. We know the people involved. We know the names of the torturers, where they acted, who the witnesses are,” said the retired mathematics teacher.
“We have cases where they tortured us in army camps, and then gathered people from the surrounding villages to show them our wounds, and warn them they could suffer the same fate,” said Sophocleous.  
“When we were taken to prisons in the UK, Labour MPs came to see us and took photographs of our wounds,” he added. 
EOKA veterans claim that 14 Cypriots died during interrogation between 1955 and 1959. Two were 17. Nine young Greek Cypriots were also hanged during the ‘Cyprus Emergency’.
Sophocleous maintains that he was tortured for 16 days after his arrest in 1956. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for possessing firearms but was released when Cyprus won independence in 1960. During his detention, he alleges his back was flayed with a rope embedded with iron shards and that he was kicked in the head, body and testicles.
The 79-year-old claims that almost all Cypriots arrested by the British suffered some form of violence, though to differing degrees. 
According to the veteran fighter, around 3,000 Cypriots were either detained or imprisoned during the anti-colonial struggle.  
Sophocleous’ lawyer - who asked not to be named - told the Sunday Mail that lawyers in London are ready to file the first civil action against Britain on behalf of a Cypriot victim of torture which will be used as a test case to gain access to the Foreign Office colonial archives. 
This will then open the way for “many veterans who are prepared to give details and proceed with law suits against the British government,” he said.  
The lawyer said after the Kenyans were able to overcome procedural, jurisdiction and time limitation hurdles, “everything is ready to file the first action”.  
At present, there are around 15 to 20 veteran fighters who suffered very serious injuries “and still suffer to this day” who have shown a keen interest in getting the ball rolling, he said.