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

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in August  

Ferguson: The sad truth is that Michael Brown was killed because he was a black man

Bonnie Greer
A protestor poses for a  

Ferguson verdict: This isn't a 'tragedy'. This is part of a long-running genocide of black men in America

Otamere Guobadia
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran