Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has filed a legal complaint against a German comedian who recited a sexually crude satirical poem about him on television, embarrassing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has just enlisted Erdogan’s help in tackling the migrant crisis.
The poem, seemingly a deliberate provocation by comedian Jan Boehmermann, has exploded into a diplomatic incident that pits freedoms championed by Western Europe against recent moves in Turkey by Erdogan that critics say crack down on dissent.
Asked about the case, Merkel tried to separate the two issues and stressed her commitment to artistic freedom.
Prosecutors in Mainz, Germany, said Erdogan had filed a complaint against Boehmermann for insulting him. Under the criminal code, he could, if found guilty, be imprisoned for up to a year.
In the March 31 program, Boehmermann, host of late-night Neo Magazin Royale on public broadcaster ZDF, recited a poem about Erdogan with references to bestiality and accusations that he repressed minorities and mistreated Kurds and Christians.
Erdogan’s German lawyer, Michael-Hubertus von Sprenger, said he was prepared to go to the highest court and added that the Turkish president wanted Boehmermann to be punished.
“He definitely won’t get a heavy punishment, but rather it will be a punishment that is necessary to get him back on the right path — to produce satire and not gross insults,” Sprenger told ZDF.
German media reported that Boehmermann was under police protection and had canceled the next episode of Neo Magazin Royale.
Prosecutors are conducting a parallel investigation into the comedian on suspicion of the more serious crime of “offending foreign states’ organs and representatives” after Turkey made a formal request. If found guilty of that, Boehmermann could face up to three years in prison.
In the second potentially more serious case, the German government has to authorize prosecutors to go ahead.
Berlin is to decide on the request from Turkey in the coming days, Merkel said, adding that she cherished artistic freedom in Germany.
“Turkey is bearing a very big burden in relation to the Syrian civil war, but all of that is completely separate from Germany’s fundamental values ... freedom of the press, opinion and science apply and are completely separate from that,” she told reporters.
The clause in question, which seems to require political intervention in the justice system, is rarely used, experts say. Some politicians have called for it to be abolished because it is antiquated.
Media reports say that in the 1960s, the Shah of Iran used the clause against the Koelner Stadt Anzeiger newspaper over a caricatured montage.
The law leaves Merkel with a conundrum.
If her government gives the nod to prosecutors, it could enrage Germans already dubious about what they view as her Faustian pact with Erdogan to help stem the flow of migrants.
“If the government supported the move, there would be a huge backlash domestically,” Wolfgang Kubicki, a lawyer and member of the FDP party, told NDR radio.
If Germany rejects Ankara’s request, Merkel could hurt relations with Turkey, a partner in the migrant crisis.
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