The German interior minister has defended Chancellor Merkel's decision to proceed with charges against a satirist who insulted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The move has divided Germany's ruling coalition.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has defended Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to allow a criminal probe against satirist Jan Böhmermann.
De Maiziere, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), told the daily "Bild" newspaper on Saturday that it is important that "the question of criminal liability is decided where it belongs," namely "not by the federal government, but by an independent judiciary."
The German government on Friday granted a Turkish request to allow the possible prosecution of Böhmermann, who two weeks ago wrote a crude poem about Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Merkel said Friday that the decision was "neither a prejudgment of the person affected nor a decision about the limits of freedom of art, the press and opinion." She emphasized the presumption of innocence and the independence of the judiciary.
The decision to proceed with charges against Böhmermann was made taking into account a German law that criminalizes insults against foreign heads of state. Merkel said, however, that the law was "dispensable in the future" and outlined plans to repeal it, effective in 2018.
Decision splits coalition
The move to pursue charges against Böhmermann has split Germany's ruling coalition, with SPD members criticizing the Chancellor's move.
Merkel admitted Friday "there were different opinions between the coalition partners - the conservatives and the SPD [Social Democrats]" in coming to a decision.
The infighting was made apparent by the reactions of coalition partners on social media following the announcement.
The SPD's parliamentary head, Thomas Oppermann, tweeted his disapproval: "I think the decision is wrong. A prosecution of satire because of a 'lese-majeste law' doesn't fit with modern democracy."
The general secretary of the CDU, Peter Tauber, defended the chancellor's decision on Twitter, writing: "The government takes the rule of law seriously. Even when it sometimes hurts."
Justice Minister Heiko Maas, a member of the SPD, said the decision on whether or not Böhmermann's poem was satire or defamation is entirely up to the courts.
"The question of whether Böhmermann's comments were satire or defamation will be decided nevertheless by the courts in accordance with the law and independent of whether the request for prosecution is granted or not," Maas told reporters.
Maas also confirmed Merkel's desire to do away with Germany's antiquated defamation law at the heart of the case. He tweeted: "We want to abolish Paragraph 103. Special provisions for insulting foreign heads of state have fallen behind the times."
'Deliberately offensive' poem
Böhmermann read his sexually explicit poem about Erdogan two weeks ago during his comedy show aired by German public broadcaster ZDF. The poem was supposed to illustrate what would not be allowed in Germany, in contrast to an earlier satirical song that poked fun at Erdogan with milder language.
Merkel previously defended the satirical song as being protected by the right to freedom of expression, but she later criticized Böhmermann's poem as "deliberately offensive."
On Thursday, Böhmermann declined to sign a "cease and desist" order from Erdogan's German lawyer, while ZDF defended the poem as "legally permissible" under German law. ZDF did, however, remove a video of the poem's broadcast from its online archive.
Merkel to travel to Turkey
The Böhmermann case has unleashed a diplomatic crisis for Merkel, who has had to defend freedom of speech in Germany as well as downplay Ankara's political influence as the two countries work together to implement a controversial EU-Turkey refugee deal.
It was also announced on Friday that Merkel and top EU officials will visit Turkey on April 23. The trip is meant to be a "follow-up" to the EU-Turkey deal to stem the flow of migrants into Europe.
European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans will accompany Merkel to the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep, which is home to many Syrians who fled the civil war in their home country.
bw, rs/cmk (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)