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Erdogan loses court battle against Axel Springer CEO

A German court has thrown out an appeal by Turkey's president to obtain an injunction against the head of media giant Axel Springer. The row erupted after the CEO expressed support for satirist Jan Böhmermann.

The appeals court in the western city of Cologne on Tuesday upheld a lower court's rejection of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's attempt to take legal action against Mathias Döpfner, the head of media giant Axel Springer.

Erdogan sought a court order against Döpfner in May after the media boss published an open letter in which he defended German TV satirist Jan Böhmermann.

The comedian had triggered a diplomatic crisis between Berlin and Ankara earlier this year when he recited a crude poem that allegedly insulted the Turkish leader on national television. The poem, which accused Erdogan of watching child pornography and performing sex acts with animals, triggered a debate over freedom of expression in Germany and Turkey.

In May, the lower court dismissed Erdogan's case, saying that Döpfner's statements fell under freedom of speech protections. The higher regional court in Cologne came to the same conclusion on Tuesday.

Mathias Döpfner

Döpfner described Böhmermann's letter as a "work of art"

The judges said they considered Döpfner's letter of support "a permissible expression of opinion as protected under Article 5" of Germany's constitution, according to a court statement.

No further appeals are possible, although Erdogan could still seek recourse before Germany's top tribunal, the Federal Constitutional Court.

Controversial letter

In his open letter, published in the Sunday edition of the German newspaper "Die Welt," Döpfner said he found Böhmermann's poem "priceless" and that it was "a work of art."

He said the poem was intended to "force people to consider how a society deals with satire and - even more important - satire intolerance among non-democrats."

In a postscript, he said he supported Böhmermann's "formulations and insults wholeheartedly" and wanted "to make them mine in every legal form."

Böhmermann, Merkel and Erdogan

Not happy: Böhmermann's lewd poem provoked a huge debate in Germany and fueled tensions between Ankara and Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in April granted a Turkish request for Böhmermann to be investigated for allegedly insulting a foreign head of state. A section of Germany's criminal code makes it illegal to insult a foreign head of state, an offense punishable by up to five years in prison. The German government has since announced plans to repeal the law.

Cologne's higher regional court stressed that its ruling Tuesday had no bearing on other cases still pending.

nm/kl (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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