The government of Angela Merkel has heeded Turkey’s call for the prosecution of Jan Böhmermann, who mocked, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With the intention of testing the limits of free speech in Germany, Böhmermann labelled Erdogan ‘stupid, cowardly and uptight’ before finishing off with crude sexual allusions .
Under Article 103 of Germany’s criminal code, it is unlawful to insult foreign heads of state, and could result in a penalty of up to five years in jail. This comes following a request sent to the German Foreign Ministry on April 10. Notably, Merkel said that her decision was “neither a prejudgement of the person affected not a decision about the limits of art, the press and opinion”.
Ironically, Merkel said that the ‘dispensable’ article would be dropped from the criminal code by 2018. It is also worth noting that the Turkish government previously complained about an earlier German television satire concerning Erdogan’s human rights record. The lawyer representing Böhmermann said that the poem was aired as part of an overall presentation of what is permissible in Germany and what is not, and this seems to have been overlooked. Criticism from opposition parties of the German political scene have surfaced. Awkwardly, this comes after the recent signing of the refugee agreement between the European Union (EU) and Turkey in March 2016.
According to opposition party leader Anton Hofreiter, Merkel has to concede to the accusation that the pact with Turkey is more important than the fight for freedom of press. Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch acknowledged that the poem was highly offensive. However, Williamson also said that in cases like these, it is crucial to stand up for protection the of free speech. As stated by the European Court of Human Rights, public figures and politicians have an obligation to show a higher degree of tolerance to not only inoffensive ideas or information but also to those that are offensive, shocking or disturbing to the State or any portion of the population. A defamation case against the satirist has also been filed by Erdogan. In sum, the case certainly highlights Germany’s responsibility in the fight for freedom of speech and press. Indeed, prosecuting a satirist lampoons freedom of speech.
—Yong Jo Leen, Correspondent (Our World)