, LONDON, Jun 23 – Five elderly Kenyans launched a bid Tuesday to win compensation from Britain over claims they were tortured and unlawfully imprisoned during colonial rule half a century ago.
The veterans of the Mau Mau revolt, which led to a series of bloody battles between Kenyan nationalists and British forces throughout the 1950s, left Kenya for the first time in their lives to make their claim in person in London.
The three men and two women are also hoping to shake off the label of terrorists given them by their British rulers, and want to be seen as freedom fighters who helped liberate their country from the shackles of colonialism.
"Many Mau Mau were beaten and tortured and many were killed. This case is about bringing all those issues before the British courts to say what we did was so wrong back in the 1950s," said Martyn Day, one of their lawyers.
"They have lived under a shadow in Kenya, a shadow which started with the British regime and effectively continued for many, many years."
Lawyers say the women veterans were sexually abused and suffered horrific mutilation.
And one of the veterans, Paulo Nzili, told AFP he had been arrested by British forces, who castrated him using pliers in 1954. He survived severe beatings which killed many other Mau Mau.
"I would be very happy if we succeed in this case," the frail 81-year-old told AFP at a press conference to launch the legal bid.
"But the most important thing for me is to be recognised as a freedom fighter, as a liberator."
John Nottingham, a former British colonial official in Kenya who refused to carry out the torture orders, has helped the veterans bring their case by studying British government documents.
"I feel very emotionally affected by what is happening this morning," he said. "It has taken a long time for what happened in Kenya in those 10 years of the Emergency for anything to be done about it all.
"There has been a lot of propaganda and spin from the British side which has concealed what actually happened."
British forces had systematically burned files on the treatment of the Mau Mau as independence approached, he said.
Many essential files were only released to the public last year under British secrecy laws.
"One of the reasons the case has been delayed is that we have been looking to make sure that we can show to a British judge that the decisions were not made in the colonial regime in Nairobi, but were decisions made here in London," Day added.
The veterans were speaking before issuing their claim at the Royal Courts of Justice later in the day.
Lawyer Paul Muite who led the Kenyans told Capital News that he is optimistic the case will sail through at the Royal Courts of Justice.
He said they have compiled overwhelming evidence against the British government which will be defending itself against allegations of torture and other forms of human rights abuses perpetrated in the 1950s here in Kenya.
“This is a very happy moment for us as Kenyans, we want to get the British government to acknowledge their wrongdoing of torture and apologise before we start talking about issues of compensation,” he said on telephone from London.
He expressed fears the British government was likely to derail the case by raising technicalities “because they know that the evidence is well documented.”
“One of the technicalities they are likely to raise is that we have delayed in bringing up the case but our answers are that when it comes to gross human rights violations, the question of delay does not apply at all,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Muite and other lawyers addressed a press conference at the offices of the Law Society of England and Wales before they headed to the Royal Courts of Justice where the case was filed.
Mr Muite said they plan to present a petition to the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to demand justice.