Thursday

30th Nov 2023

Merkel authorises probe into Erdogan satire

The German government has authorised criminal proceedings requested by Turkey against a comedian over a satirical poem about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The decision, taken on Friday (15 April), is likely to amplify debate in Germany over freedom of expression versus good relations with Turkey, which has pledged to help the EU to stem the flow of migrants.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Under German law probes on insulting organs or representatives of foreign states can go forward only with the approval of the federal government.

The offence can carry a punishment of up to three years in prison.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, announcing the decision, said the judiciary would have to decide whether Jan Boehmermann, a popular TV comedian, could be convicted under the rarely enforced legislation.

"In a state under the rule of law, it is not a matter for the government but rather for state prosecutors and courts to weigh personal rights issues and other concerns affecting press and artistic freedom," Merkel said.

She said that her decision was not a prejudgement of Boehmermann's guilt.

She added that the government would move to scrap the old law by 2018.

Ankara filed a formal request earlier this week for a criminal inquiry to be launched against Boehmermann.

His poem accused Erdogan of bestiality and paedophilia as well as human rights abuses.

He said that the satire was designed to test German law.

Opposition heat

Merkel said that there had been a heated debate within the government over the decision.

Her coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), attacked the decision and two senior SPD ministers expressed disapproval.

Justice minister Heiko Maas said his ministry did not support the decision authorising the probe. Foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he opposed the criminal prosecution.

"I consider this decision wrong," the SPD parliamentary group leader, Thomas Oppermann, tweeted. He added that the lese-majeste law did "not fit in a modern democracy".

Sahra Wagenknecht, from the leftist Die Linke party, called it "unbearable kowtowing" to the "Turkish despot Erdogan" at the "expense of press freedom in Germany".

Migrant deal at stake

The issue comes at a sensitive time for Merkel, who has tried to get irregular migration under control via an EU-Turkey deal on taking back most migrants who tried to enter the EU via Greece.

Her handling of the migration crisis has prompted her approval rating to plummet ahead of elections next year.

Over 1 million people fleeing poverty and conflicts arrived in Germany since the start of last year. Turkey is hosting 2.7 million Syrian refugees.

According to internal minutes of an EU meeting leaked to Greek media, Erdogan last year threatened top EU officials to flood Europe with migrants.

"We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria any time and we can put the refugees on buses ... So how will you deal with refugees if you don't get a deal? Kill the refugees?” he said, according to the Greek report.

Erdogan in March also thumbed his nose at Europe by seizing a prominent opposition newspaper, Zaman, on the eve of an EU summit.

Two leading Turkish journalists, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, face life in prison in an ongoing trial for exposing secret arms shipments to Syria.

In a direct echo of the Boehmermann case, Turkey has in the past two years also indicted more than 1,800 people for “insulting” state institutions.

A popular comedian, Cem Yilmaz, went on trial earlier this month after being accused of insulting a provincial governor.

Merkel in tight spot over anti-Erdogan comedian

German satirist could face three years in prison for insulting Turkish president, but only if Merkel gives the green light, amid concerns on Turkey's implementation of EU migrant deal.

EU-Turkey deal gets reality check

The EU-Turkey deal that came into force on Sunday has not deterred migrants crossing the Aegean sea on its first day. But it raises many questions as Greek and Turkish legal frameworks still need to be set up.

Turkey free speech row goes EU-wide

Turkey's EU embassy has called for legal action against a Dutch comic for insulting its president, lifting a dispute on free speech, which began in Germany, to a European level.

Opinion

The EU's 'no added sugars' fruit-juice label sleight-of-hand

The Food Information to Consumers package would have finally regulated the health or nutrition claims companies make on their products, claims like "heart-healthy" "30-percent less fat" or "no added sugar". Legislation on these claims is now 15 years overdue.

Column

How centre-right conservatives capitulate to the far-right

Many conservatives in Europe seem to have forgotten the lesson of 1930s Germany. They sacrifice their principles on the altar of the polls and all-too-often try to overtake rightwing radicals on their own pet subjects like security or migration.

Latest News

  1. EU offers Turkey upgrade, as Sweden nears Nato entry
  2. Russia loses seat on board of chemical weapons watchdog
  3. Finland's closure of Russia border likely violates asylum law
  4. The EU's 'no added sugars' fruit-juice label sleight-of-hand
  5. EU belittles Russia's Lavrov on way to Skopje talks
  6. Member states stall on EU ban on forced-labour products
  7. EU calls for increased fuel supplies into Gaza
  8. People-smuggling profits at historic high, EU concedes

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  2. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  4. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  5. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  2. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations
  5. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  6. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us