Comedian Could Face 3 Years In German (Not Turkish!) Jail For Mocking Notoriously Thin-Skinned Turkish President
from the insulting-organs-or-representatives-of-foreign-states dept
Techdirt has been following with interest the ways in which the delicate sensibility of Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is being wounded. First there was Gollum; then the filing of 1,845 cases of allegedly insulting the Turkish President; and finally, a mild satirical video that Erdoğan didn't want you to see. The last of these not only caused the Streisand Effect to kick in with a vengeance, but has provoked a German comedian to take things up a notch, as reported here by the Guardian:
In a short clip from a late-night programme screened on the German state broadcaster ZDF at the end of last month, comedian Jan Böhmermann sits in front of a Turkish flag beneath a small, framed portrait of Erdoğan, reading out a poem that accuses the Turkish president of, among other things, "repressing minorities, kicking Kurds and slapping Christians while watching child porn".
Exactly as Böhmermann doubtless intended, this has caused a huge political stink. The broadcaster ZDF took down the video, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, told Turkey's prime minister that the poem was a "deliberately offensive text" that she personally disapproved of. Most significantly, the Turkish government has filed a formal request for Böhmermann's prosecution. So what? you might ask. Germany isn't Turkey, and so surely there's no way that somebody would be prosecuted just for a few rude lyrics about a foreign leader. Well, it turns out that's not the case:
On 6 April it emerged that Germany's state prosecutor was investigating Böhmermann for violation of the little-used paragraph 103 of the criminal code, which concerns insulting organs or representatives of foreign states. At worst the comedian was facing a prison sentence of up to three years.
Although some people in Germany have condemned Böhmermann for being coarse, an attention-seeker and even racist, Merkel does not want to be seen as a world leader who harms freedom of speech:
In a government press conference on Monday, [Merkel's spokesperson] Seibert said Merkel wanted to make it unequivocally clear that freedom of speech was "naturally the highest good", irrespective of whether she considered a satirical piece "tasteful or tasteless".
On the other hand, Merkel desperately needs Turkey's help in dealing with the huge numbers of refugees from the Middle East flooding into southern Europe. A deal between the EU and Turkey has been agreed to help address this problem, although doubts remain about whether it is a realistic solution. In any case, Erdoğan is in a very strong position -- and knows it. This really puts Merkel and the German government on the spot, and it will be intriguing to see how -- or even if -- they manage to reconcile the conflicting pressures.