German comedian in Erdoğan ‘insult’ row suspends TV show

German comedian in Erdoğan ‘insult’ row suspends TV show

BERLIN – Agence France-Presse
German comedian in Erdoğan ‘insult’ row suspends TV show

Reuters photo

A German comedian, whose satirical poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has unleashed a bitter row about freedom of speech after Ankara made a request to prosecute the satirist for “insulting” a foreign leader, has decided to suspend his own TV show, he announced on his Facebook page on April 16.

Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 15 authorized criminal proceedings sought by Turkey against the popular comic Jan Böhmermann, who could be convicted under the rarely-enforced section 103 of the criminal code - insulting organs or representatives of foreign states.

Merkel’s decision has appalled rights bodies such as Human Rights Watch, which on April 16 called on the German authorities to defend freedom of speech “even if the contents of the speech are offensive to some."

“The authorities should not afford heads of state greater privilege against provocative speech,” Human Rights Watch said.

In light of the swirling controversy, Böhmermann said he was taking a “televisual” pause “to allow the public to concentrate again on really important matters such as the refugee crisis, videos of cats or the love life of [German actress and model] Sophia Thomalla.”

German prosecutors have opened a preliminary probe against Böhmermann over his so-called “Defamatory Poem,” recited with a broad grin on public television, after Erdoğan filed a legal complaint for reciting a crude satirical poem about him at his “Neo Magazin Royale” show on German public broadcaster ZDF.

During the broadcast on March 31, Böhmermann gleefully admitted that the piece flouted Germany’s legal limits to free speech and was intended as a provocation.

He also said in his online comments that he felt a “great solidarity” from the German people.

“But it also puts me in a difficult situation. Who can I still make jokes about?” he asked, noting that with the xenophobic far-right was taking his side.

The incident has soured German-Turkish relations at a time when Ankara is vital to the European Union’s plans to tackle its current refugee crisis.

“There were different opinions between the coalition partners - the conservatives and the SPD [Social Democrats],” Merkel told reporters on April 15 at the chancellery in Berlin while declaring her decision to accept Erdoğan’s request for a prosecution. 

“The outcome is that the German government will give the authorization in the current case,” she added, stressing that this was not a decision about the merits of the prosecution’s case against Böhmermann.

“In a state under the rule of law, it is not a matter for the government but rather for state prosecutors and courts to weigh personal rights issues and other concerns affecting press and artistic freedom,” she said.
Merkel stressed that Berlin’s decision did not amount to a “pre-judgement” on his legal culpability and that “prosecutors and courts” would have the last word.

The EU and Ankara in March agreed a deal to ensure a “migrant deal” to send migrants traveling from Turkey to Greece back to Turkey, in return for some 6 billion euros and visa-free travel to Turkish citizens. 

Some media commentators have suggested that given the geopolitical situation Merkel has no wish to upset Turkey.