Petition aims to pardon Enigma code breaker | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 08.10.2012
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Petition aims to pardon Enigma code breaker

Persecuted computer pioneer, mathematical genius and World War II code breaker Alan Turing could have his conviction for consensual gay sex overturned if a campaign to get a historic pardon succeeds in Britain.

Legislation that came into force earlier this month allows around 16,000 people found guilty of crimes that are no longer offenses in Britain, including gross indecency and consensual gay sex, to apply to have their convictions wiped.

However, the new law only applies to the living, which is not enough for politician John Leech of the Liberal Democrat party. The parliamentarian has launched a campaign for the posthumous pardon of scientist Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency with a 19-year-old man in the early 1950s.


Turing is widely regarded as the father of computer science

Turing - who is often credited as being the "father of modern computer science" for his work on artificial intelligence - was given a choice of punishment by the British authorities - either go to prison or be chemically castrated. He chose to take the hormone injections and in 1954 committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide.

Official apology

In 2008, then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for the way UK authorities had treated Alan Turing in the past.

Leech told DW the current government should issue an official pardon.

"We hope that if we get a pardon for Alan Turing it will open up an opportunity for other people who were convicted and are no longer with us to have their convictions disregarded," said Leech, who represents Manchester - where Turing worked until his death at age 41.

Around 75,000 people could be rehabilitated, if Leech's plan is successful.

Thousands of men were convicted of gross indecency under homosexual offense laws dating back to 1885 - among them Oscar Wilde, who went on to serve two years of hard labor in Reading. If Leech gets his way, relatives of the celebrated playwright and poet would be able to apply to have his conviction disregarded.

Widespread support

A petition in support of the campaign has attracted more than 35,000 signatures so far, and government officials have indicated to Leech that they won't oppose his call for a posthumous pardon.

Turing's computer at the University of Manchester

Turing once worked on this computer at the University of Manchester

In Manchester, where Turing worked on what is known as "the baby" computer, an exhibition is currently marking the centenary of his birth. But apart from a small statue in Manchester's Gay Village and a road named after him, Turing, who was also a famous marathon runner, remains largely uncelebrated in British culture. He didn't even get a mention in either the opening or closing ceremonies to the London Olympics.

"Alan Turing was a national hero and saved countless lives by helping to bring the Second World War to an early conclusion with his work on breaking the Enigma Code - and then he was convicted simply for having a sexual relationship with another man. It's right and proper that we force this campaign through and make sure he gets a pardon," said Leech.

Proposals are due to be brought to the House of Lords in a matter of weeks by Leech's colleague Lord Sharkey. If the peers agree, it will then move to the House of Commons, where Leech will seek to make the bill law and to finally grant Alan Turing a posthumous pardon.

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