Germany mulling Turkish demand to prosecute TV comedian
Germany is considering a request from Turkey to prosecute a TV comedian who wrote a crude poem about the Turkish president, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said Monday.
The request poses an awkward choice for the German leader as she relies on Turkey to reduce the influx of migrants to Europe.
Turkey sent a diplomatic note making “a formal request for criminal prosecution” of comedian Jan Boehmermann, Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
Boehmermann read the poem on ZDF television two weeks ago to illustrate what he said wouldn’t be allowed in Germany, contrasting it with another channel’s satirical song that also poked fun at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Germany’s ambassador was summoned to the foreign ministry in Ankara last month to hear a protest over that song.
Mainz prosecutors told the dpa news agency late Monday that Erdogan had also filed his own complaint accusing Boehmermann of slander, adding that it would be considered as part of the ongoing investigation.
While the German government defended the song as legitimate free speech, it has strongly distanced itself from the poem. Seibert has said that Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu agreed the poem was “deliberately offensive.”
Germany’s criminal code provides for up to three years in prison or a fine for insulting a foreign head of state. However, it stipulates that such offenses are only prosecuted if the country in question seeks prosecution and the German government allows it.
Seibert told reporters Monday that officials would take several days to decide whether to allow prosecutors to proceed in the case, but stressed that Merkel holds free speech in high regard. It is “negotiable neither at home nor abroad,” he said.
German officials have appeared at pains to avoid causing further friction with Erdogan, steering clear of direct criticism of the president in recent weeks amid Turkey’s sharp response to German satire. Merkel championed the European Union-Turkey deal for Ankara to take back migrants who travel illegally to Greece.
Seibert said he was stressing Merkel’s dedication to free speech “to counter the impression that the freedom of opinion and art … no longer has the necessary high value for the chancellor just because she, along with other Europeans, wants to resolve the refugee question in partnership with Turkey.”
In Turkey, Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that “this kind of attack, including insults and rude statements to a country’s president and also targeting a society, has nothing to do with freedom of expression or with press freedom.”
“It is an insult everywhere in the world, and it is a crime,” he said, adding that “those who publish this kind of ugliness … apparently are annoyed with improved relations” between Germany and Turkey.
A senior German opposition lawmaker called on Merkel to reject the Turkish call for Boehmermann’s prosecution.
Left Party parliamentary caucus leader Sahra Wagenknecht noted that in Turkey, more than 1,800 cases have been opened against people accused of insulting Erdogan since he came to office.
“If Merkel caves in in the Boehmermann case, he will be able to strike at will in Germany as well in the future,” she said.
German comedian faces prosecution for ‘goat fucking’ poem about Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
- Comic Jan Böhmermann in hot water over ‘smear poem’ on live television
- Turkish government furious about comedian’s boundary-pushing jokes
- He could be prosecuted for insulting a foreign head of state
- Last month Turkey complained about a satirical song about Erdogan on TV
In the poem Böhmermann also joked that Erdogan was ‘watching child porn while kicking Kurds’.
Jan Böhmermann read out the ‘smear poem’ live on his TV show last Thursday, leading to a furious complaint from the Turkish government. He was poking fun at the difference between satire and slander
If convicted of insulting a foreign head of state the comic could face up to three years in prison.
Even the New York Times is onto it:
Erdogan’s Attempt to Suppress German Satire Has the Opposite Effect
By MELISSA EDDY
BERLIN — If President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had hoped that summoning the German ambassador would get a video poking fun at him by a German satire program removed from the Internet, he was wrong.
Instead, the move had any number of consequences, including provoking a diplomatic dust-up with Germany and a fresh round of ridicule of Mr. Erdogan for playing to type.
After all, the video, by the comedy show “extra3,” was a song satirizing the Turkish president as a thin-skinned authoritarian who cracks down on journalists, the news media and opponents he does not like.
Not least, Mr. Erdogan’s move spurred a surge of online interest in the video, which by Thursday had attracted more than four million views — tenfold the program’s usual audience.
“Nobody could avoid him,” the show boasted in a Twitter post on Monday.
But Mr. Erdogan was not the only one who did not find the whole thing funny. German commentators pointed to the spat as a demonstration of the dangers of making deals with a leader who has shown an increasingly antidemocratic streak even as he has sought broader recognition and favors from the European Union for agreeing to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.
In the video, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, also comes in for mockery as cozying up to a leader who has been increasingly criticized for flouting the bloc’s democratic ideals.
On Wednesday, the German government did not find much to laugh at in the matter.
Christiane Wirtz, a spokeswoman for Ms. Merkel, confirmed that the German ambassador to Ankara, Martin Erdmann, had been summoned on March 22 over the video, and again on Tuesday for attending the opening of a trial on Friday of two opposition journalists charged with espionage.
The trial was abruptly closed to the public, and Mr. Erdogan criticized the German and other foreign diplomats in the courtroom.
Sawsan Chebli, a spokeswoman for Germany’s Foreign Ministry, said that “the ambassador made clear the position of the German government that the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and protection of basic rights, which include freedom of the press and freedom of expression, are values that must be protected.”
German officials would not confirm reports that the Turkish side had requested that the video be taken down from the Internet.
But Ms. Chebli said the ambassador and a deputy foreign minister, who called his Turkish counterpart on Tuesday, had “made clear that political satire in Germany is, of course, protected and therefore there is neither a necessity, nor a possibility, for the government to take action.”
The show’s reaction to the dispute was tongue-in-cheek. It posted a political cartoon showing a figure resembling Mr. Erdogan brandishing a fire extinguisher at a laptop, while threatening, “Either you erase this video, or I will extinguish the Internet.”
The cartoon was in keeping with the tone of the video, which derides Mr. Erdogan’s treatment of journalists, the opposition and his country’s Kurdish minority.
“He’s living in grand style; Big boss from Bosporus,” begins the song in the two-minute clip, initially broadcast on March 17 and sung to the melody of a 1980s hit by the German punk-pop diva Nena, of “99 Red Balloons” fame.
The music is set against a mix of actual and digitally altered footage of the Turkish leader and recent events in his country, including the use of water cannons on demonstrators after the closing of the opposition newspaper Zaman.
“When a journalist writes a piece that Erdogan doesn’t like, he quickly ends up in jail,” the song continues, showing images of opposition journalists being taken away by the police and protesters clashing with officers in riot gear.
“Newspaper offices closed down, he doesn’t think twice,” the lyrics add. “With tear gas and water cannons he is riding through the night.”
The flap is not the first time Germany and Turkey have clashed over freedom of expression, as Mr. Erdogan’s government has cracked down on the press in recent years.
Dozens of journalists and columnists have lost their jobs, and the authorities, acting on court orders, have seized two opposition media companies. Insulting the president is a crime under Turkish law, and more than 1,800 cases have been filed.
Recently, the Turkish leader appears to have extended his battle against freedom of expression to include the foreign press. Earlier this year, a correspondent for the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel was forced to leave the country after being denied accreditation as a journalist.
The Turkish leader’s attempt to silence German satire “is an indication of a clear misunderstanding of Western press freedoms,” wrote Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.
“Apparently the president is under the impression that the German Foreign Ministry can censor German media outlets,” Mr. Frankenberger wrote. “Experienced Turkish diplomats know this is of course untrue, yet Turkey is not like it was under the ‘old’ Erdogan. It has become a more authoritarian country. Erdogan now reacts hysterically to any criticism. This is a woeful state of affairs.”
Andreas Lange, the editor of “extra3,” told the public broadcaster NDR that no one from the show or the broadcaster had been contacted by either the Turkish or German government over the controversy.
He said his team first had heard about it through social media over the holiday weekend.
“We were sitting over our Easter eggs and were pretty puzzled about the whole thing,” Mr. Lange said, later adding that his team had been “shocked” to learn that the reports were true.
Mr. Lange said he could not deny a certain pleasure at the international attention the video has drawn to the show, which has been poking fun at domestic and international leaders for 40 years.
The week after the disputed video ran, “extra3” took on President Obama’s visit to Cuba through a spoof titled “Better Call Raul,” in a nod to the American television series “Better Call Saul.”
“We don’t do this just to be funny. We do it because these are things that we believe need to be addressed,” Mr. Lange said. “Our motto is, if we shoot and someone yells ‘ouch!’ then we have hit the mark.”