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Praise as Germany drops charges against Böhmermann

Prosecutors have been praised in Germany for dropping a criminal probe into a poem perceived as insulting by Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Satirist Jan Böhmermann's wording unleashed a diplomatic row last April.

German ZDF public television's director-general Thomas Bellut said Tuesday's dropping of a charge of insulting a head of state - decided by prosecutors in Mainz, where the channel is based - was "good news" for artistic freedom in Germany.

Böhmermann's lawyer Daniel Krause said the prosecutors had withstood extensive political pressure and their decision "deserved emphasis and respect."

Deutschland Intendant des ZDF Thomas Bellut (picture-alliance/dpa/F. v. Erichsen)

'Good news' for freedoms, says ZDF's Bellut

Böhmermann tweeted he would wait until Wednesday to comment.

Still pending in Hamburg is a final ruling in a civil case in which Erdogan wants a ban on the "defamatory poem."

 

The satirist recited the poem during a late Thursday evening broadcast on March 31 to test literary freedoms - just as Germany was embroiled in talks with Turkey on a deal to stem refugee movements into Europe.

ZDF promptly withdrew the item from its online archive but copies still circulated.

Redress sought under rarely used law   

Erdogan personally filed the charge in April, seeking redress under section 103 of Germany's criminal code for insulting a head of state, which prosecutors can only pursue at the request of the German government.

Chancellor Angela Merkel later expressed regret at her government's approval of the probe while also announcing that Berlin would scrap the archaic passage.

China G20 Gipfel in Hangzhou - Merkel & Erdogan (picture-alliance/Anadolu Agency/M.A. Ozcan)

Making up at the G20 in September

She also expressed concern about clamps on the media in Turkey.

Oversensitive autocrat?

The German Justice Ministry declined immediate comment on Tuesday's outcome.

But, the chairman of the German DJV journalists' trade union Frank Überall said: "This clearly means that in Germany satirical freedom has a higher status than the sensitivity of an autocrat about his reputation."

Opposition Left party foreign affairs spokesperson Sevim Dagdelen said the Mainz prosecutors had defended artistic and press freedoms in Germany "against Turkish President Erdogan, an avowed enemy of press freedoms."

Watch video 01:21

Prosecutors drop Böhmermann investigation

No deliberate intent

In a three-page declaration Thursday, the prosecutors said their investigation had not established a deliberate intent to insult, sufficient to lead to a criminal conviction.

Böhmermann had put emphasis on over-exaggeration and a portrayal detached from a concrete person when reciting the poem in ZDF's broadcast "Neo Magazin Royale," a nonsense show for an "average informed mature audience," said the prosecutors.

This context ruled out a "seriously intended denigration," they added.

Böhmermann's satirical recitation lay within the protective scope of artistic freedom in terms of Article 5 of Germany's constitution.

Sexual references

Böhmermann's ditty had started by describing the Turkish leader as "uptight" before descending into crude sexual references.

At the time, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the poem was shameless and not only insulted Erdogan but all 78 million Turks. 

On Tuesday, he said a state of emergency had been extended for 90 days by Erdogan's cabinet after it shut down another television station in the wake of July's failed coup.

ipj/bw (AP, epd, dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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