German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday admitted she had made an “error” in the bitter freedom of speech row sparked by a comedian’s poem about Turkey’s president.
But she defended her decision to authorise criminal proceedings against popular comedian Jan Boehmermann, saying this was a “fair” reaction to the poem that accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of paedophilia and bestiality.
Merkel did, however, express regret that her spokesman Steffen Seibert had said she viewed the poem as “deliberately insulting” in the chancellery’s first official reaction to the row.
“With hindsight, it was an error,” Merkel told regional officials meeting in Berlin, adding that the remark could have given the impression that “freedom of opinion is not important, that freedom of the press is not important”.
Merkel’s decision to allow proceedings against Boehmermann has appalled rights groups, while the comedian has received vocal support from media and cultural figures.
He could be convicted under the rarely-enforced section 103 of the criminal code — insulting organs or representatives of foreign states.
Prosecutors have opened a preliminary probe against Boehmermann over his so-called “Defamatory Poem”, recited with a broad grin on public television on March 31, accusing Erdogan of bestiality and watching child porn.
During its broadcast, Boehmermann had gleefully admitted the piece flouted Germany’s legal limits to free speech and was intended as a provocation.
He has suspended his television show in the midst of the controversy.
The row has soured relations at a time when Ankara is vital to European Union plans to tackle the migrant crisis, and some commentators have suggested Merkel’s decision was linked to a desire to avoid upsetting Turkey.
The EU and Ankara in March agreed a deal that will see migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey sent back.
In exchange, Turkey will receive billions of euros of EU aid and political concessions.