Friday

3rd Jul 2020

Germany investigates comedian over Erdogan poem

A German satirist could face three years in prison for a poem about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a freedom of speech case that could turn against chancellor Angela Merkel.

Jan Boehmermann, a comedian and a presenter on Germany's main TV channel, the ZDF public broadcaster, could be charged with "insulting a representative of a foreign state" after a prosecutor in Mainz, where ZDF is based, launched an investigation.

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  • Boehmermann: "We have spectacularly shown where the limits of satire lie by us in Germany."

Under the German criminal code it is an offence to insult “organs or representatives of foreign states”.

Last Thursday (31 March), during his weekly show Neo Magazin Royale, Boehmermann read a poem in which he said that Erdogan "represses minorities, kicks the Kurds and beats the Christians".

In his poem, he also said that Erdogan liked to have sex with goats and sheep, watched child pornography and "beats young girls while wearing a rubber mask".

The broadcast followed a recent controversy over a satirical song, "Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan", aired on 17 March on NDR, another public TV station.

The song said Erdogan lived in a "showy palace", spoke of his “brothers in faith from Isis”, the jihadist group, and said that he “jails journalists for writing things he doesn’t like”.

In a part showing Merkel in Erdogan's palace, the song also said: "Be nice to him since he’s holding all the cards", in a reference to Turkey's role in stopping migrants coming to Europe.

The Turkish government summoned the German ambassador to Ankara and asked the video of the song to be deleted from NDR’s website and social media channels.

Boehmermann, a popular comedian who last year mocked former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, was not connected with the song, but his poem was intended as a reaction to the controversy.

He said he was trying to define the line between humour and defamation.

The backlash was stronger than for the "Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan" song.

On Friday, the day after the show, ZDF's director of programmes Norbert Himmler said the "limits to irony and satire were clearly exceeded" and had the video of the poem removed from ZDF's website.

On Sunday Merkel spoke on the phone with Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and publicly criticised the poem.

Merkel's spokesman on Monday said both leaders had agreed the poem was a "deliberately abusive text".

However, government sources said Merkel's call had cooled the Turks down, according to Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel.

A prosecution for insulting foreign leaders is only possible if the state makes a formal request, and it is not believed that Turkey has complained.

During the controversy over the "Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan" song, a foreign affairs ministry spokeswoman said that for Germany “the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and protection of basic rights, which include freedom of the press and freedom of expression are values that must be protected”.

The chancellor's remark over the poem and the prosecutor's investigation could ironically support the song's claim that Erdogan should not be criticised because of his importance to Europe, and especially Germany, in the refugee crisis.

The Turkish government seized an opposition newspaper, Zaman, in early March, and has jailed scores of critical journalists.

Reacting to the Zaman crackdown, German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said Germany “should not be the referee on human rights for the entire planet”.

Faced with the backlash, Boehmermann said that he had "spectacularly shown, jointly with ZDF, where the limits of satire lie by us in Germany. At last!"

EU officials target dictators with satire

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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.

Analysis

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