Berlin (AFP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday authorised a Turkish demand for criminal proceedings against a German TV comedian over a crude satirical poem about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a bitter row over free speech.
“The government will give its authorisation in the case at hand,” Merkel told reporters, adding that it was up to the courts to decide on his guilt or innocence.
However, Merkel also announced that Germany would by 2018 scrap the rarely-enforced section 103 of the criminal code — insulting organs or representatives of foreign states — under which the comic, Jan Boehmermann, has been accused, as a result of the embarrassing affair.
A section 103 probe can only go forward with the approval of the federal government.
Ankara this month filed a formal request for a criminal inquiry to be launched in Germany against the popular Boehmermann, who accused Erdogan of having sex with goats and sheep while gleefully admitting he was flouting Germany’s legal limits on free expression.
The so-called “Defamatory Poem” also audaciously labelled the Turkish president a paedophile.
Merkel — who had previously labelled the poem “deliberately insulting” — had pledged Turkey’s request would be “very carefully” examined, even as she underlined the German constitution’s guarantees of “freedom of expression, academia and of course the arts”.
On Friday she said her government, after heated internal debate, had concluded that only the judiciary should decide whether Boehmermann had committed a criminal offence.
“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,” she said.
Merkel stressed that Berlin’s decision did not amount to a “prejudgement” on his legal culpability and that “prosecutors and courts” would have the last word.