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Alan Turing Petition Seeks Official Pardon

However Turing supporters ask is a pardon right, for crimes comitted under an “awful” law?

On by Tom Jowitt 0

An online e-petition has been created which is urging the Government to issue an official pardon to Alan Turing, one of a number of genius codebreakers of the Second World War, for his conviction of ‘gross indecency.’

Turing achieved lasting fame for exploits at ‘Station X’ during the war, which is more commonly known nowadays as Bletchley Park. There he was part of the team that helped crack the Enigma code.

Turing also laid the foundations of computer science by thinking up a theoretical computer called the Turing Machine and also helped create the world’s first modern computer, the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine.

Chemical Castration

However Turing was also gay, which was a criminal offence back then. In 1952 he was convicted of gross indecency with another man.

As a result of this conviction Turing was forced to choose between prison or chemical castration by taking female hormones. He chose the latter.

Two years later, at the age of 41 years old, Turing took his own life.

“Alan Turing was driven to a terrible despair and early death by the nation he’d done so much to save,” said the e-petition. “This remains a shame on the UK government and UK history. A pardon can go some way to healing this damage. It may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.”

As of 5.30pm Wednesday, 9,647 people had signed the e-petition. If the petition, which is set to run until November 2012, is signed by 100,000 people it automatically becomes eligible for discussion in the House of Commons.

Previous Petition

This is not the first time that people have been petitioned on behalf of Alan Turing. In 2009 a petition on the Number10.gov.uk website was signed by thousands of people, which called for a posthumous government apology to Turing.

The then prime minister Gordon Brown acknowledged the petition and released a statement apologising and describing Turing’s treatment as “appalling”.

But it seems that the man who was behind the original Alan Turing petition back in 2009, is not actually backing this new petition.

Not Appropriate

According to a blog posting of John Graham-Cumming, a British computer scientist, the reasons for not supporting this new petition calling for a pardon, is that Turing willingly broke what he calls an “awful” law.

“In Turing’s case there’s really no argument that he simply broke the law,” wrote Graham-Cumming. “There aren’t any circumstances that change that. The law itself was awful (hence my campaign), but it’s not clear to me that a pardon is appropriate.”

“Secondly, even if a pardon is appropriate, a pardon for simply Turing would be unjust to the other gay men who suffered under the law,” he added. “There were many, many others. And there are men alive today living in Britain with a criminal record because of offences committed during the time the laws were in force. I could get behind a petition for a pardon for all those people, especially since living people are still hurt by that law, but not just for Turing. Pardoning him doesn’t help the living.”

Graham-Cumming also pointed out that a pardon is not actually necessary, because subsequent to the 2009 apology campaign the UK government introduced legislation that actually “does roll back the criminal convictions of gay men.”

“The Protection of Freedoms bill has already passed all stages in the House of Commons, two readings in the House of Lords and enters (this coming Monday) committee stage. That means it’s close to being law,” he wrote.

“So, while I’m sure the current campaign is a heartfelt attempt to express utter outrage at what happened to Alan Turing, I can’t support it,” Graham-Cumming wrote.

Tom Jowitt
Author: Tom Jowitt
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