A welcome outbreak of clemency in Britain and Russia... now if only Mr Obama would join in

In both the pardoning of Alan Turing and the release of the Arctic 30 Greenpeace protesters, two members of Pussy Riot and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, it is possible to detect great forces at work

Share
Related Topics

The end of the year is pardoning time. Alan Turing, the British computer scientist who was convicted as a criminal in 1952 because he admitted a homosexual relationship, was pardoned by the Queen on Christmas Eve. On the same day, the Russian authorities started to release the Arctic 30 Greenpeace protesters under an amnesty proposed by Vladimir Putin, the president, and passed by the Russian parliament. The day before, two of the members of the anti-Putin band Pussy Riot were released, and a few days before that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oil business leader, was let out of jail by Putin, exercising a presidential pardon.

In both the British and the Russian cases it is possible to detect the pressure of great forces at work. Forces that this newspaper, in its youthful optimism, might even call "progress".

It has been pointed out that Turing's pardon is, in part, an insult, because it assumes that he did wrong and that the British state is showing mercy. The pardon was granted under the "royal prerogative of mercy", exercised on the advice of ministers, to cut short the slow progress of a Private Member's Bill. But that is possibly to be too literal. Just as, under Russian law, Putin could not pardon Khodorkovsky unless Mr K accepted his guilt. However, Mr K continues to protest his innocence, the Russian state protests his guilt, and both sides are more satisfied than they were when Mr K was still in jail.

As for Turing, Gordon Brown had already apologised in 2009 on behalf of the British government. It was one of those peculiar apologies readily offered by modern politicians for wrongs with which they had absolutely nothing to do, but it served a symbolic purpose in recognising that the struggle for equal rights is a long one and not yet completely won.

In Russia, the forces of progress take a different form. Putin's sudden attack of clemency is widely attributed to his desire to avoid embarrassing protests at the Winter Olympics in Sochi in little over a month's time. But another motive may well lie in the miserable state of the Russian economy. President Putin needs foreign investment, and this is deterred not so much by the threat of foreigners being jailed as by the threat to Russian entrepreneurs of a capricious legal system. Russia desperately needs a hard-working and successful middle class, and will not have one if talented young people feel that their right of expression is curtailed or that what they work for might be taken away from them.

Thus the release of Mr Khodorkovsky, Pussy Riot and the Arctic 30 are welcome not just in themselves, but because it suggests that President Putin realises that an authoritarian state is not in the interests of the Russian people.

If Barack Obama could be persuaded to join in this season of clemency, the new year could get off to a better start. He pardoned a turkey last month, but, as Rupert Cornwell wrote, how much better it would be if he were to reprieve the many Americans unjustly detained on life-without-parole sentences.

Let us not be too fussy about the implications of pardons and amnesties; that they are a show of generosity by the powerful that only emphasises their power. Equally, they can be a way of power yielding to progress while saving face. Let us hope for more forgiveness and progress in 2014. We wish you, the reader, a happy New Year.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL DBA (2005/2008/2012, projects, storage requirements)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tiger skin seized from a smuggler by customs officers in Lhasa, Tibet  

Save the tiger: Poaching facts

Harvey Day
 

Save the tiger: 7 saddening facts about the extinction of Javan tigers

Harvey Day
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried