British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing was granted a posthumous royal pardon by the Queen today on Christmas Eve. Turing was convicted in 1952 for homosexuality, which was still a criminal offence in Britain then, and punished by chemical castration. This punishment has now been revoked under the royal prerogative of mercy.
Turing, widely considered to be a pioneer in the field of computer sciences and artificial intelligence, had carried out extensive research in cryptographic techniques and was instrumental in helping the Allies decipher many German messages enciphered with the Enigma machine during World War II. The conviction resulted in Turing losing his security clearance, which meant that he had to stop his work on code-cracking. Turing died in 1954 from cyanide poisoning. While an inquest ruled the cause of death as suicide, friends and biographers have disputed the finding and suggested that his death was an accident.
UK’s Justice Minister Chris Grayling, who had requested for the pardon, said, “Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind. Turing deserves to be remembered for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the queen is a fitting tribute to the exceptional man.”
Many people have campaigned for years to win a pardon for Turing. In 2011, an e-petition to this effect gathered more than 34,000 signatures, but the request was denied on the grounds that this was a ‘proper conviction’ for what was a crime then. A similar request in 2009, however won an official apology from Prime Minister Gordon Brown who said that the persecution of Turing was ‘appalling’.
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