Tuesday

5th Mar 2024

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.

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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.

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