Merkel stresses free speech in Germany-Turkey satire spat

German comedian Jens Boehermann on his 31 March show, just before reciting the original Erdogan 'poem'. [Screengrab/YouTube]

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday spoke about the importance of free speech as Berlin weighs a Turkish request to prosecute a German TV satirist who crudely insulted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Merkel said her government considers the case entirely separate from other political issues – including the EU-Turkey pact meant to end the mass influx of migrants to Europe.

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She emphasised that Germany’s constitution guarantees “freedom of expression, academia and of course the arts”, adding that “these values apply regardless of all the political problems that we discuss with each other. And that includes the issue of refugees.”

Erdogan’s government has issued a formal protest against TV comedian Jan Boehmermann and demanded that he be prosecuted for reciting a so-called “Defamatory Poem” audaciously accusing the Turkish president of paedophilia and bestiality.

The case comes at an extremely awkward time as Europe, and Germany in particular, are relying on Ankara to implement a pact to curb the flow of migrants taking boats headed for the European Union from Turkey’s shores.

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Merkel – who has labelled the poem “deliberately insulting” – said Turkey’s request was being “very carefully” examined by the relevant government offices, including her chancellery, with a decision expected in coming days.

She also said that finding a solution on the refugee issue was in the interest of both Turkey and the EU, including Germany.

“But all this is completely independent of fundamental rights in Germany, and therefore also of Article Five – the freedom of the press, opinion and academia, and completely disconnected from this,” Merkel stressed.

German prosecutors last week opened a preliminary probe against Boehmermann, 35, who accused Erdogan of having sex with goats and sheep while gleefully admitting he was flouting Germany’s legal limits on free speech.

The comedian was reacting to Ankara’s decision to summon Germany’s ambassador in protest last month over a previous satirical song broadcast on German TV which lampooned Erdogan in far tamer language.

Several German viewers complained, but Turkey’s request to punish the satirist gave the affair a far broader diplomatic dimension and exposed Merkel to criticism she was kowtowing to Erdogan.

Any prosecution would be launched under Germany’s rarely enforced section 103 of the criminal code – insulting organs or representatives of foreign states — which carries up to three years in prison.

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