Politicians from the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia have launched a bid to protect a German satirist, after Ankara filed a criminal defamation suit against him for insulting the Turkish President.
Last week Chancellor Angela Merkel announced her decision to allow the prosecution of Jan Böhmermann to proceed, after the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (pictured above), demanded criminal charges be brought against the young satirist for reciting a comic poem about the thin-skinned Turkish president.
The law in question, paragraph 103 of the German criminal code, states: “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”.
According to the law, however, the first step taken in any prosecution is a decision by the German government as to whether prosecutors are authorised to pursue a specific case. That is why Chancellor Merkel found herself making such a politically-controversial decision.
Despite pressure to amend the law which supporters of free speech have heaped on the government, it had been thought that would not happen before 2018. Now, however, Deutsche Welle has reported that North Rhine-Westphalia’s justice minister, Thomas Kutschaty, is seeking an initiative in the upper chamber of the German parliament to scrap the law faster than that.
The upper house of Germany’s parliament consists of members from all 16 German states, and Mr. Kutschaty says that several other states had indicated their support for his initiative. He explained that if the motion, which could be heard as soon as mid-May, is successful then German prosecutors would not be able to convict Mr. Böhmermann.
A change in the law would mean there is no chance of Mr. Böhmermann being sentenced to prison for his criticism of the Turkish president. It would, however, do little to mollify the anger of the thin-skinned Mr. Erdoğan who has overseen Turkish prosecutors opening 1,845 cases against people accused of insulting him.