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Society

Book Says British Tortured, Killed 14 Cypriot Rebels in 1950’s Uprising

NICOSIA – Using testimony from British veterans Cypriots fighting for independence from the United Kingdom in the 1950’s, a book about that dark period in its Colonial history alleged that at least 14 Cypriots were tortured and murdered during an armed uprising.

The new claims feature in a book, 14 Crimes of Empire, published in Greek, which investigates the circumstances behind the deaths of the 14 men, said the British newspaper The Guardian.

Elina Stamatiou, the Cypriot author who spent three years investigating the deaths, said the UK government needed to acknowledge its role in their fate at a time when it still has military bases on the island.

“Justice must be served. I also think that an official apology to the families of these victims would be very important, even if it comes 65 years later. The families’ wounds are still open,” she said.

The book also pointed to postmortem and morgue records and previously undisclosed material from Cypriot archives, suggest that the victims died after being interrogated by UK officers.

Aged 17-37, they were arrested on suspicion of being part of the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters, a paramilitary group known as EOKA, which operated a guerilla campaign to overthrow the British.

Photographs from the Cyprus National Archives corroborate signs of torture on their bodies. In some cases, the images appear to show mutilation of the genitals, the newspaper said, with graphic depictions of the fate of the men.

A witness to one of the deaths said: “I saw the soldiers pulling Nicos (Georgiou] out of his cell, almost unconscious, with foam coming out of his mouth. He was making an awful sound like a lion growling as he lay dying. They let him die on the cement outside.”

There have been previous reports the British military used torture to try to keep their country’s grip on the island but this is the first time that UK forces, including its intelligence services, are accused of a campaign of extrajudicial killings during the 1955 to 1959 uprising.

In 2019, the UK government paid 1 million British Pounds ($1.2 million) to 33 Cypriots who alleged they were tortured by British forces, including a girl who was then 16 and said she was repeatedly raped by soldiers.

The government said the payment was not “any admission of liability” without explaining why it then agreed to do it and now could be facing more scrutiny about the UK’s history of brutality with its former colonies.

In what was known as the Cyprus emergency, EOKA launched an insurgency against British authorities who insisted that the island should “never have self-determination,” because it belonged to the UK.

THE SOUNDS OF DEATH

When the Cypriots fought back, the British sent in thousands of troops to squash any attempt at rebellion, killing some EOKA fighters but at a loss of 371 soldiers.

Among the victims, the report said, was Georgios Christoforou, 18, who was arrested in the city of Paphos in 1958 with others detained with him saying they saw him being taken into an interrogation room and emerging with his “face covered with blood and he could not walk.” One recalled “moaning and noises” coming from the room and later heard Christoforou screaming.

Another witness testified that he heard the teenager’s interrogator say: “If you do not tell us the truth, we shall kill you.”

Images of Christoforou in the morgue show his face bloodied and disfigured. Clinical documents show that he died from internal injuries on “whilst in custody from injuries due to a blow or fall or some other form of violence but there is no evidence to show when, where, how and in what manner he received the injuries which caused his death,” said the report.

Another victim was Lucas Louka, 17, who died in the city of Famagusta in 1958 after what appears to be a brutal beating from an English military police officer not named,

Photographs from the morgue indicate signs of baton strikes on his back, with the fatal blow on the left side of his head. A friend of Louka’s said he saw him being “assaulted” by a British military captain. Another saw the teenager attacked “with a heavy rod” by the same officer. The friend added: “He started beating the deceased everywhere, on the head, body. I saw Louka lying on the bed and the captain beating him.”

Veteran EOKA fighter Michalakis Moustakas said Nicos Georgiou, 37, who was arrested in the village of Platres, died in detention. Held in a cell next to Georgiou, Moustakas said they were forced to sleep naked on cement, were fed urine, repeatedly beaten and dragged by their genitals.

The witness, now 86, said he watched Georgiou being dragged out of his cell with foam coming from his mouth. “Every night when I go to bed, I can still hear his growling sound while dying,” said Moustakas.

The Foreign Office referred to a 2019 statement from then Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan which said that the “passage of time means that it is now no longer possible to establish all of the facts with certainty.” It added:

“The UK government acknowledges the strongly held views of many Cypriots about the emergency” and said that the violence was a “matter of regret.”

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