The first hearing into the lawsuit filed in mid-2015 by 33 men and two women over torture endured by Greek Cypriot Eoka fighters during the struggle for independence from colonial rule between 1955 and 1959 opened in London on Tuesday.
The EOKA veterans are being represented by KJ Conroy & Co Solicitors, a Birmingham-based law firm. Kevin Conroy told the BBC Today programme on Tuesday ahead of the hearing: “The British government are desperate to stop this case going to trial because they don’t want their dirty washing out in public. They just want to hunker down and have it all go away. It’s not going away.”
One of the victims of colonial brutality, Demetris Glykis told the same radio programme: “I can’t get my health back. I just want justice.”
Glykis said he was a 15-year-old high-school student when he was beaten by British soldiers in Limassol after being arrested on the street. He recounted how many of his friends were linked with Eoka and he himself had been carrying leaflets on his bike when he was intercepted. “It was a risk but we didn’t carry bombs or anything,” he said.
One day in 1956 he was chased through the streets by British military police who knocked him off his bike and arrested him. “They were swearing at me. I was very scared. They threw me in their car, the back of a Landrover and said ‘we will fix you up, you bastard Greek’,” he added.
At a local interrogation centre, he said an officer went up and slapped him hard on the face. “With that slap, my head almost came off. My eardrum broke.” He said the beating went on for several hours, damaging his back and his right kidney, which he had to have removed later. Glykis was jailed for two and a half months.
According to the solicitors some of the more interesting aspects of the case have come from a corporal who admitted that “one of the Greeks had got a bit lippy” and that he had “stuck one on him”. They said there was another instance where two officers had beaten a man so badly with a chain that they were court martialled. Another important piece of evidence in the case involves a Brigadier Michael Harbottom who was stationed in Cyprus at the time and was interviewed in the 1970s by the Imperial War Museum. A clip of the interview played by the BBC has the Brigadier saying interrogation was the job of special branch and that it did involve torture. “I could never condone… because it involved physical violence and that is not the way a soldier operates,” he is heard saying. “I’m talking of torture and there was torture.”
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.
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 for a reported €24 million payout.
The British government, according to the BBC, has raised an obscure point of law called ‘double accountability’, questioning whether British law or Cypriot law applied at the time of the Eoka struggle and attempting the make the case that it was Cypriot law, in which case the statute of limitations would kick in.
According to state broadcaster CyBC, the hearing was not concluded on Tuesday and would resume on Wednesday morning.
Head of the Eoka veterans’ association, Thassos Sophocleous said all Eoka fighters were tortured during colonial rule, 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.
Sophocleous told the Guardian this week the hearing marked “a very big day”.
Like him, most of the claimants are now in their eighties. Two are women. One has described how at the age of 16 she was raped in a forest clearing by British special branch officers before being subjected to days of brutal interrogation for her role in Eoka, the Guardian report said.
“We want justice,” Sophocleous told the paper. “We are not against Britain. We have many friends and relatives there. What happened was because of politics. We fought for freedom and union with Greece, we voted for it in a referendum overwhelmingly but instead we were tortured and killed.”
The plaintiffs say they have eyewitnesses, declassified documents, newspaper reports and medical evidence. The arguments of the Cypriot claimants are also expecting a boost from International Red Cross archives.