According to an opinion poll taken at the weekend, fully two thirds of Germans oppose the government’s decision allowing prosecutors to bring a case against Jan Böhmermann, a German comedian who mocked Turkey’s President Erdoğan. Critics warn the effects will be felt in Turkey as well as Europe.
On Friday Chancellor Angela Merkel announced her decision to allow the prosecution of Jan Böhmermann (pictured above, right) to proceed, after President Erdoğan (above, left) demanded criminal charges be brought against the young comedian for his recitation of a satirical poem about the thin-skinned Turkish leader. Turkish prosecutors have themselves opened 1,845 cases against people accused of insulting their President, so it is nothing new to them.
The poem, shown by German public broadcaster ZDF on 31 March, potentially falls foul of paragraph 103 of the German criminal code, which reads: “Whosoever insults a foreign head of state or an accredited diplomat in Germany… shall be liable to imprisonment of up to three years or a fine. A slanderous [calumnious] insult could be punished with up to five years.”
The law does allow the German government to decide whether or not prosecutors are authorised to pursue specific cases, which is why Chancellor Merkel found herself making the politically-charged decision. Having to weigh western European concerns about free speech and freedom of conscience on the one hand, with the fact President Erdoğan has the power to scupper the European Union deal with his country to stem the flow of migrants into Europe on the other, she agreed to allow prosecutors to investigate.
A poll for yesterday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper found that 66 per cent opposing the German chancellor’s decision, reports EurActiv. Only 22 per cent actually thought her decision to proceed against Mr. Böhmermann, who is reportedly under police protection, was correct, and 12 could not make up their minds.
London Mayor and Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson, himself a man of Turkish descent, decried the decision in The Telegpraph. He wrote:
It is no use saying that the case against Böhmermann is an obvious dud, or that it will be thrown out by the German court. Think of the impact in Turkey. Imagine how you would feel if you were a Turkish journalist, worried about what you could say, and you saw Angela Merkel – the leader of the most populous and richest country in the EU, this club of soi-disant liberal western nations – cravenly siding with the whim of an autocrat.
You would feel alone, frightened that even Germany was unwilling to stick up for you; and you would be right…
…No one believes that Erdogan is a goat-fancier or that muffled baa-ing is to be heard from the presidential suite in Ankara. But in a free and pluralist society there is no reason why a self-professed satirist should not make a joke about it. The process of EU integration means the wholesale erosion of democracy; and it would seem that protecting that process means the erosion of free speech as well. The whole thing is infamous.