Row as Merkel lets comic face charges over Erdogan poem

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Row as Merkel lets comic face charges over Erdogan poem

BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow the possible prosecution of a TV comic for writing an intentionally offensive poem about Turkey’s president has prompted mixed reactions in Germany.

Some commentators on Saturday praised the move as a vote of confidence in the country’s justice system while others accused Merkel of kowtowing to Turkey, whose president has filed a legal complaint against the comic.

In the unusual move, Merkel called a short-notice news conference Friday to personally announce that her government had granted Turkey’s request to let prosecutors examine a criminal complaint against the comic for writing an intentionally offensive poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Under German law, the government has to grant permission for prosecutors to consider whether to lay charges against someone for the crime of insulting a foreign head of state.

Merkel stressed that it “means neither a prejudgment of the person affected nor a decision about the limits of freedom of art, the press and opinion.” She underlined the independence of the judiciary and the presumption of innocence.

Torsten Krauel, chief opinion writer of the center-right German daily Die Welt, wrote, “It’s not clear what reasons weighed so heavily that she had to take this legally, politically and morally unnecessary as well as disastrous step,”

Krauel described Merkel’s decision as a bow to Erdogan, whose help the chancellor depends on for her plan to reduce the influx of migrants to Europe. Any conviction of comedian Jan Boehmermann would now “carry her political signature,” he said, noting that previously Merkel had been known as a strong defender of free speech and for shrugging off public attacks against her in foreign media.

Others praised Merkel’s move, arguing that it would highlight the independence of Germany’s judicial system.

“Unlike in Russia or Turkey, innocent people don’t have to fear the rule of law in this country,” wrote Berthold Kohler, a publisher of the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “The Boehmermann case is therefore better left in the hands of independent judges.”

The comic himself indicated that he planned to take a break from television.

In a Facebook posting Saturday, Boehmermann said he had received support from “the overwhelming majority of those who aren’t President Erdogan.”

Boehmermann read the poem on ZDF television two weeks ago to illustrate what he said wouldn’t be allowed in Germany, contrasting it with another channel’s earlier satirical song that also poked fun at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and angered Turkey.

ZDF withdrew the passage with the poem from its archives but argues that it didn’t break the law. Boehmermann’s ditty started by describing the Turkish leader as “stupid, cowardly and uptight” before descending into crude sexual references.

While the German government defended the earlier satirical song as legitimate free speech, it distanced itself from the poem, volunteering the opinion last week that it was “deliberately offensive.”

German officials have appeared at pains to avoid causing further friction with Erdogan, steering clear of direct criticism of the president in recent weeks amid Turkey’s sharp response to German satire.

That has generated criticism of Merkel, who has championed cooperation with Ankara to stem the migrant flow to Europe. Earlier this week, she said Germany’s desire to resolve the migrant crisis won’t change its commitment to free speech. ?

AP
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