By Estelle Shirbon and Drazen Jorgic
LONDON/NAIROBI (Reuters) - Three elderly Kenyans tortured by British colonial forces were told they can sue Britain, in a London court judgment likely to encourage other claims dating back to the days of the British Empire.
The government, which had tried for three years to block their legal action, said on Friday it planned to appeal as the judgment could have far-reaching legal implications.
Paulo Nzili, 85, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, and Jane Muthoni Mara, who is about 73, suffered castration, rape and beatings while in detention in the 1950s during a crackdown by British forces and their Kenyan allies on the Mau Mau movement fighting for land and freedom.
The trio want Britain to apologize and to fund welfare benefits for Kenyan victims of torture by colonial forces.
"The people they imprisoned and put in the detention for seven years (resulted in Kenya) losing a generation," Gitu Wa Kahengeri, Mau Mau War Veterans Association secretary general, told reporters in Nairobi.
Nearby, about 40 Mau Mau veterans and relatives cheered, hugged and performed a traditional dance in the midday heat when the news came through.
The veterans said British authorities should stop using legal technicalities to fight the case and, instead, negotiate a settlement speedily as the claimants were frail and elderly.
"What could be more despicable, what could be more immoral of Her Majesty's Government than to bide time simply to wait for all these victims to die one by one before tasting justice," Paul Muite, a lawyer advising Mau Mau Veterans, told reporters in Nairobi.
Britain had first said that responsibility for events during the Mau Mau uprising passed to Kenya upon its independence in 1963, an argument which London courts rejected.
The government then said the claim was brought long after the legal time limit. However, judge Richard McCombe said in Friday's judgment there was ample documentary evidence to make a fair trial possible.
"The government and the military commanders seem to have been meticulous record-keepers," he said.
The Foreign Office said while it did not dispute that the claimants suffered torture and other ill treatment, it would appeal nevertheless, because of the judgment's implications.
Nzili, forced to join the Mau Mau in 1957 and who left the movement six months later, was arrested on his way home. He was castrated while in detention at Embakasi camp.
Nyingi, never a member of Mau Mau, was arrested in 1952 and spent nine years in detention without charge. He suffered several severe beatings, including on one occasion when 11 detainees were beaten to death and he was so badly injured he was left for dead in a pile of corpses for three days.
Mara, then a girl of about 15, suffered sexual abuse including rape using a soda bottle full of boiling water.
Mau Mau veterans, gathered at the Kenya Human Rights Commision Nairobi residence to hear news of the verdict, swapped stories about the past.
"There was a time I spent more than 10 days without eating as I just wanted to die because I was angry with the torture," Daniel Macharia Kuria, 83, told Reuters while unbuttoning his shirt to show a scarred chest.
"Today is one of the happiest days of my life."
The torture took place during the so-called Kenyan "Emergency" of 1952-61, during which fighters from the Mau Mau movement attacked British targets, causing panic among white settlers and alarming the government in London.
Tens of thousands of rebels were killed by colonial forces and an estimated 150,000 Kenyans, many of them unconnected to the Mau Mau, were held in detention camps likened by a leading historian of the period to Soviet gulag labor camps.
(Editing by James Macharia and Dan Lalor)