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Merkel allows inquiry of satirist Böhmermann

April 15, 2016

Chancellor Angela Merkel has allowed German authorities to launch an investigation into satirist Jan Böhmermann. Turkish President Erdogan requested the inquiry, saying he was insulted by a Böhmermann poem.

Deutschland Angela Merkel äußert sich zum Fall Jan Böhmermann
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Schreiber

In a widely anticipated press conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that prosecutors should pursue charges against Jan Böhmermann. The satirist broadcast a poem that allegedly insulted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"The outcome is that the German government will give the authorization in the current case," Merkel said, stressing that the decision "means neither a prejudgment of the person affected nor a decision about the limits of freedom of art, the press and opinion."

Merkel also announced that her government will draft a proposal to replace the current law that criminalizes insulting foreign heads of state, making it "dispensable in the future."

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Erdogan has pressed charges against Böhmermann for insulting him personally and as a foreign head of state, which is illegal under German law. In order for an investigation against Böhmermann to begin, the inquiry needed the approval of the German government.

The private defamation case could result in a one-year prison sentence for Böhmermann, while insulting a foreign head of state can be punished by up to five years in jail.

Coalition spat over satire

During Friday's press conference, Merkel admitted "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 Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (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."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a statement on Turkey's request to seek prosecution of German comedian Jan Boehmermann
The Böhmermann case has sparked a diplomatic crisis for MerkelImage: Reuters/F. Bensch

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.

rs/sms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)