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German court justifies injunction on Erdogan poem

Kate Brady
June 17, 2016

A German court has issued a ruling justifying its decision to prohibit parts of Jan Böhmermann's poem being repeated in public. The satirist prompted outrage from Ankara after harshly criticizing the Turkish leader.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Jan Böhmermann

A Hamburg regional court published its justification on Friday for deciding that parts of Jan Böhmermann's poem were included in an injunction, preventing public repetition of large parts of the poem.

In its ruling last month, the court said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should not have to tolerate such repetition "in view of its abusive and libelous content."

The court said on Friday, however, that Böhmermann's "libelous poem," was "undoubtedly" a work of satire and art, adding that due to his prominent political position, Erdogan must be prepared to put up with strong criticism.

Controversial lyrics

Böhmermann made headlines earlier this year after his poem prompted the Turkish leader to sue him for defamation.

The poem, which aired on March 31 on the weekly German satirical show "Neo Magazin Royal," accused Erdogan of allowing abuse of Kurds and Christians, violence against women, and repression of minorities in Turkey.

It also contained numerous sexual innuendos, including the implication that Erdogan had participated in sex with goats, sodomy, and had a child-porn habit.

A satirical and controversial poem

On the request of Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed German authorities to launch an investigation into Böhmermann, citing paragraph 103 of Germany's penal code, which protects foreign heads of state from insult.

Reality vs. satire

The Hamburg court ruled on Friday that the "the non-prohibited parts of the poem, expressed harsh criticism of [Erdogan's] policies," and that in their over-exaggerated form, "goings-on taken from reality" could be assumed.

As an example, the court referred to "the beating of female demonstrators on World Women's Day by policemen wearing helmets and protective clothing," for which Erdogan, as head of state was politically responsible.

Bearing these events in mind, the court said that a line of the poem which reads, "He is the man who beats girls while wearing rubber masks" is a permissible form of satire.

'Racist prejudices'

Weighing up the balance between the protection of artistic freedom and Erdogan's personal rights, the court ruled that in some parts, the Böhmermann overstepped the mark with "undoubtedly abusive and defamatory" lyrics.

Justifying the injunction, the court said that some lines which were prohibited as they seized "directly upon existing prejudices" against Turks, which are considered racist.

The court argued that this issue was particularly aggravated by the Böhmermann's "deliberate" use of the term "Schweinefurz," which translates as "pig fart." In Islam, the pig is considered to be an unclean animal.

Free speech debate

In light of last month's injunction, Böhmermann's lawyer Christian Schertz said the court's decision was wrong, "despite deeming the comments concerning the freedom of expression as admissible."

The case has sparked a fierce debate on free speech in Germany, as well as anger over Berlin's decision to allow the investigation into Böhmermann allegedly breaching paragraph 103 of the penal code.

Many critics have called for the abolition of the law. Following discussions in Berlin on Friday, however, the German government postponed any further decision on the matter.

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