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Böhmermann: Merkel threw me to a 'despot'

The comedian under investigation for allegedly insulting the Turkish president has criticized the German leader for allowing the probe to proceed. A 19th-century law criminalizes "insulting" foreign heads of state.

Comedian Jan Böhmermann broke his media silence to slam German Chancellor Angela Merkel for apparently caving to pressure over a poem he had read on public television mocking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"The chancellor must not budge when it's a matter of freedom of opinion," Böhmermann told the Die Zeit newspaper in an interview printed in full on Wednesday. "But instead, she filleted me, served me for tea to a high-strung despot and made me into a German

Ai Weiwei

," he said, referring to the Chinese dissident artist.

On March 31, Böhmermann read a poem on state television that insulted Erdogan in a crude fashion. It suggested that Erdogan watched child pornography and performed sex acts with animals, prompting the Turkish head of state to file a defamation complaint.

The case has unleashed a fierce debate about the limits of free speech in a Germany that still criminalizes insults to foreign heads of state and the German president under a 19th-century statute.

A complicated relationship

Merkel und Erdogan

Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under fire for allowing the prosecution of a German satirist who ridiculed Erdogan on German TV

Merkel has been working closely with Erdogan to exchange billions of euros and diplomatic concessions for Turkey in exchange for cooperation with preventing refugees from seeking asylum in the EU.

Critics had already

accused her of ignoring Turkey's human rights record and worsening press freedom

in order to win its government's cooperation over migrants.

Skewered by German press

The Berlin newspaper

TAZ on Tuesday published a bilingual German-Turkish edition whose lead editorial accused Berlin and Brussels of staying largely silent on Ankara's alleged rights abuses

at a time when the EU needs Turkey to limit the influx of migrants and refugees.

"You would have to be in massive denial to overlook the vehemence with which the Turkish president is fighting the free press in his country," the editorial said in the left-leaning newspaper.

Erdogan is widely known for his sensitivity to criticism and Turkish prosecutors have opened over 1,800 cases against people,

including professional journalists,

for insulting him since he became president in 2014.

Merkel initially called the crude poem "deliberately offensive" even though she later regretted expressing her personal view. But her government had already decided to allow the criminal probe to proceed though it's unclear whether Böhmermann will be charged.

Even so, the 35-year-old comedian has been off the air since the imbroglio. But the case has rocketed his popularity and led to

the nomination of at least one prestigious award

as the dust-up is seen as a test-case for freedom of expression in Germany.

jar/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa)

Watch video 03:04

Turkish journalists under serious threat (25.03.2016)

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