Germany to overturn 50,000 convictions of gay men

Since 2002 Germany has been overturning convictions the Nazi regime imposed on gay men. But the initiative had excluded any convictions handed down after World War II.

Markus Schreiber/AP
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas arrives for the German government's weekly cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, April 6, 2016. Maas told the BBC that German homosexuals who had been treated as criminals under German law 'should no longer have to live with the taint of conviction.'

More than 50,000 men who were convicted of homosexuality under a law that criminalized homosexuality in Germany will finally have their convictions overturned.

The government will start the rehabilitation process to correct the injustices which activists say has been long overdue. In other words, apart from overturning the convictions, the government will introduce efforts to erase the legal stigma imposed on the men, as well as compensate them for the injustice incurred.

The so-called Paragraph 175 – introduced in the 19th century, and applied vigorously during the Nazi era – made homosexuality a crime. Thousands of men were convicted and served jail time under this law. Some 50,000 men were convicted between 1949 and 1969, when Germany eased the law. But even after it was eased the legislation stayed in German books, until 1994 when it was finally taken off. And between 1969-1994 another 3,500 men were convicted, The New York Times reported.

"We will never be able to eliminate completely these outrages by the state, but we want to rehabilitate the victims," said Justice Minister Heiko Maas, the BBC reported "The homosexual men who were convicted should no longer have to live with the taint of conviction."

Since 2002, the country has been rehabilitating the men who were convicted during the Nazi dictatorship, but the initiative excluded any convictions handed down after World War II. But an investigation conducted by the country's Federal Anti-discrimination Agency has found that there are no legal restrictions preventing the country from overturning the rest of the convictions.

Germany's announcement comes almost three years after Queen Elizabeth II pardoned Alan Turing, who was prosecuted for gross indecency in 1952, under Britain's indecency laws. Mr. Turing who is celebrated for cracking a Nazi code that helped Britain win World War II, allegedly committed suicide at 41, two years after he was chemically castrated for engaging in homosexuality.

The Queen's pardon prompted a widespread campaign led by celebrities including Benedict Cumberbatch – who played Alan Turing in the 2014 film "The Imitation Game" – urging the queen to extend the pardon to 49,000 other men who had been convicted under the law. Some 15,000 of those men are still living, according to The Independent. A poll conducted by YouGov during the campaign last year found that 65 percent of Britons were in support of the government pardoning the men it prosecuted for gross indecency, 21 percent were not.

Australia has also been taking similar measures. Various regions including New South Wales, ACT, South Australia, and Victoria have already overturned convictions that had been handed down before the country decriminalized homosexual acts in 1991. And now the state Queensland has initiated the process to overturn convictions handed down in the state. Tasmania is also reported to be considering similar measures.

Homosexuality is still illegal in 79 nations, most of them in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Countries that treat homosexuality as a crime include Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan. In 10 nations, homosexuality is considered a capital offense and those convicted may face execution. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have executed people for engaging in homosexual acts, according to the website Erasing 76 crimes.

In Germany, civil unions between gay couples became legal in 2001.

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