Cyprus Mail

EOKA veterans ready to take on British government over torture claims

Thassos Sophocleous, head of the EOKA veterans' association

By Jean Christou

A British legal team representing a number of EOKA fighters is to fire its first volley at the UK government on June 27 over torture endured by Greek Cypriots during the struggle for independence from colonial rule.

Head of the EOKA veterans’ association, Thassos Sophocleous was in the UK this month for meetings with the lawyers who will represent eight EOKA veterans – six men and two women.

He told the Sunday Mail earlier this week that the decision had been taken to proceed with the lawsuit against the British government for human rights abuses during the 1955-1959 struggle, and that papers would be filed to that effect by the end of next month.

The EOKA veterans are being represented by KJ Conroy & Co Solicitors, a Birmingham-based law firm.

In parallel with legal procedures to lead test cases to trial, the solicitors are expected to open negotiations with British authorities with a view to settling out of court on a similar basis to the Kenyan example, which opened the way for the EOKA veterans.

An official admission in Britain in 2013 that thousands were tortured during Kenya’s Mau Mau insurgency between 1952 and 1963 expressed regret, but denied liability and settled out of court.

Lawyers for Cypriot veterans of the EOKA struggle had been waiting to see how the Kenyan claims would be resolved before carrying on with their action.

“I believe we are going to win because what we are saying is true and we have all of the evidence,” said Sophocleous. He cited eyewitnesses, declassified documents, newspaper reports and medical evidence that he says includes his own scars from being tortured. The arguments of the Cypriot claimants are also expecting a boost from International Red Cross archives.

“Many others have the same evidence,” Sophocleous said. “All EOKA fighters were tortured, some to a lesser extent and others to a bigger extent.” Some survivors have been disabled, lost their hearing, and are still dealing with long-term psychological or physical problems, he added.

Foreign Office documents released in July 2012 described claims of torture and abuse during the EOKA insurgency. Reports from that time speak of authorities’ killing a blind man and punching a pregnant woman who then miscarried, to telling a man dig his own grave. During that period, a British officer described a “hysterical mob” of 150 soldiers kicking Cypriots on the ground, and beating them in the head, face and body with rifle butts. In 1958, authorities rounded up 300 civilians and beat them, killing some in the process, another report said.

The EOKA lawsuit coincides – coincidentally- with the release on July 1 of a book The End of Empire by veteran BBC journalist Martin Bell who served as a conscript in Cyprus during the last two years of the EOKA struggle.

There was some thought of asking Bell to testify during the upcoming legal proceedings but in his own words, even though he witnessed the “harassment of the Greek population” and a “staggering lack of humanity” on the part of the military, he and his fellow low-ranking soldiers were unaware of the torture and brutality that took place behind closed doors during interrogations.

The EOKA plaintiffs’ lawyer Kevin Conroy, told the Sunday Mail, that the interrogations and torture were mostly carried out only in certain areas such as the Omorfita police station. “This was the HQ for special branch,” he said. Conroy said he met with leading barristers in London in the middle of May and said he would be ready to serve papers within weeks.

Eight letters with claims on behalf of the two women and six men have already been sent to the British Foreign Office. The letters set out the details of the allegations and provide the accused with the opportunity to investigate them. According to the lawyers, London doesn’t seem inclined to settle or mediate at this stage.

But Sophocleous said he was hopeful. “Whatever we tell them is the truth,” he said. “But we are ready for everything.”

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