How a Satirical Poem Became a State Affair

A German Actor Risks Prison for Offending Turkey's President Erdogan

April 26th, 2016
Julie Essertel, News from Berlin

The German comedian Jan Böhmermann risks prison for his satirical poem about the Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan. Indeed, Angela Merkel presented her official excuses to the President of Turkey a few days ago, thus letting down the comedian. These excuses stirred up a controversy because some journalists and politicians seem to think that it is an infringement of the right of free speech.

Since the controversy has started, the comedian has reportedly disappeared: he does not answer his phone, has stopped publishing on Twitter and is nowhere to be seen. In Turkey, anyone who insults the President is eligible for prison. For instance, in 2014 the country initiated about 2000 legal proceedings against offenders. The German authorities just opened an investigation for defamation against Jan Böhmermann.

By letting the comedian down, Mrs. Merkel chose to try to ease the tension between Germany and Turkey. Angela Merkel just negotiated a treaty with her counterpart to send the refugees of Greece in Turkey so she cannot afford tensions between the countries, therefore she recognized the poem as deliberately insulting. By doing so, the comedian falls under the German law which prescribes three to five years of prison for 'lese-majesty' to a Head of State.

However, Angela Merkel announced that her government will try to delete abolish this ancient 'lese-majesty' law.

This is the second incident between Berlin and Ankara, the satirical poem had in fact been written in opposition to the condemnation of a song on the 17th of March. The song offended the President Erdogan and he complained about it already. Ultimately, these state incidents show how tense many actors of the international stage are and how complicated the relationships between Berlin and Ankara are.


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