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German state pushes to scrap lese majeste law

Darko Janjevic (with epd, AFP, dpa)April 20, 2016

Politicians in Germany are preparing a motion which might protect German satirist Böhmermann, after Ankara filed a defamation suit against him. Meanwhile, fellow satirist Dieter Nuhr defended Erdogan's right to sue.

Deutschland Jan Böhmermann in Köln
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Galuschka

The state of North Rhine-Westphalia is seeking an initiative to scrap the German lese majeste law faster than currently planned, the state's justice minister, Thomas Kutschaty, told the German daily "Rheinische Post."

The law, which forbids defamation of foreign heads of state, is in the center of the widely publicized scandal surrounding comedian Jan Böhmermann and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan's lawsuit against Böhmermann has sparked a fierce debate on freedom of speech in Germany, and put pressure on the federal government to change the law. According to Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, this would not happen before 2018.

State lawmakers poised to decide

The upper chamber of German parliament might solve the issue much sooner, according to North Rhine-Westphalia's minister Kutschaty.

"I want to bring forth a motion aimed at immediate scrapping of lese majeste law before the chamber," he told the Wednesday edtion of "Rheinische Post."

"Then, they would not be able to convict [Jan] Böhmermann," he added.

The lawmakers might discuss the initiative as soon as mid-May, according to state officials from North Rhine-Westphalia, where Böhmermann also resides.

In Germany, the upper house of the parliament consists of members from all 16 German states, often with different political parties in charge from region to region. Several other states had indicated their support, according to Kutschaty.

Bild-Kombo Böhmermann Merkel Erdogan
Erdogan's lawsuit against Böhmermann (left) puts Berlin in a risky diplomatic position

If the law is changed or scrapped before the court decision, the judges would be legally obliged to follow the milder regulation.

Also on Wednesday, the Dutch "Telegraaf" newspaper reported that the cabinet in the Hague was mulling over a legal move to scrap a similar law in the Netherlands.

'Nothing to whine about'

Violators of the current German law can face a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Also, according to the regulations, the German government needs to approve defamation lawsuits before the investigation starts. Berlin's decision to give the green light in Böhmerman's case has prompted accusations against Chancellor Merkel, with government critics claiming she surrendered freedom of speech to Ankara.

German comedian Dieter Nuhr, however, publicly backed the government's position stating there was "nothing to whine about" when it comes to the investigation against Böhmerman.

"A certain Mr. Böhmermann has insulted the Turkish president in a poem," he wrote in the article for the German "Tagesspiegel" on Wednesday. "There might be good reasons to insult [Erdogan], but defamation is forbidden by law. And that applies to the Turkish president, because our laws apply to everybody. This, among other things, is the difference between us and Turkey. We have the rule of law."

According to Nuhr, "everybody can sue everybody" in Germany, even Nazis, terrorists and other people who may not believe in the rule of law themselves.

Thus, Berlin was right to approve the investigation, Nuhr wrote, adding that "not everything is allowed in satire."

"In addition, the lese majeste law … should be scrapped. This is also a good idea. Until then - it applies. That is how we do it when it comes to laws," he added.