German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to prosecute the comedian Jan Böhmermann for reading an offensive poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Merkel allowed the prosecution to go through, but she vowed that the law must be changed to promote free speech.
Merkel insisted her decision did not amount to a verdict on whether or not the comedian was guilty, a decision she reserved for the court.
“In a constitutional democracy, weighing up personal rights against freedom of the press and freedom of expression is not a matter for governments, but for public prosecutors and courts,” Merkel declared in a press conference on Friday. She further insisted that this move does not imply “a decision about the limits of freedom of art, the press, and opinion.”
Under Germany’s criminal code, insults against representatives of foreign states can be prosecuted only if the offended party sends a notification and the German government authorizes the prosecution. Merkel revealed that the foreign ministry, the interior ministry, the justice ministry, and her own office disagreed on how to proceed with the Böhmermann affair.
The chancellor condemned the specific part of Germany’s legal code which allowed the Turkish president to request prosecution. Merkel promised that steps would be taken to strike the language, as it can be seen as an attack on free speech. The provision in question, paragraph 103, criminalizes insults against organs or representatives of foreign states.
Merkel expressed “grave concerns” about the prosecution of journalists in Turkey, as well as growing limits on the right to protest, but emphasized her country’s close ties to Erdoğan’s government.
In all fairness to Germany, Böhmermann’s poem was very inflammatory. He referred to Erdoğan as a “goat f*****,” adding that the Turkish president was “repressing minorities, kicking Kurds, and slapping Christians while watching child porn.”
“Erdoğan is definitely a person with a small tail,” the comedian mocked, in a line where “tail” is understood to refer to a specific part of the male anatomy.