Germany: Prosecutors drop investigation in Turkish president insult case

6 October 2016

Due to insufficient evidence, German prosecutors dropped an investigation into German comedian Jan Böhmermann who was accused of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in an “obscene” poem he recited on his satirical show on ZDF public television in March 2016, reported BBC on 4 October 2016.

In a statement, the prosecutors said their investigation had “not established a deliberate intent to insult, sufficient to lead to a criminal conviction” and that the comedian’s recitation of the poem “lay within the protective scope of artistic freedom” under Article 5 of the country’s constitution, reported Deutsche Welle on 4 October 2016.

“It is now officially established, at least provisionally, that this was a joke at heart. [The joke] was tasteless for some, while others at that time found it just right,” the comedian said in a video statement on 5 October 2016, reported Deutsche Welle.

In his statement, Böhmermann criticised the German government, saying, “if a joke triggers a state crisis, it is not the problem of the joke, bit of the state”. He also criticised the Turkish government, saying that “compared to what critical journalists, satirists or opposition members faced at that time and even now, all this fuss about the ‘Böhmermann Affair’ is another big, sad joke”.

The comedian also thanked ZDF for their support throughout the ordeal. Thomas Bellut, ZDF public television director-general called the dropped charges “good news” for artistic freedom in Germany, reported Deutsche Welle on 4 October 2016.

Though the charges against the comedian have been dropped, a court in Hamburg is still adjudicating a final decision on a civil case brought up by the Turkish president to ban the “defamatory poem”. Meanwhile, the Turkish president’s lawyer in Munich, Michael-Hubertus von Sprenger, confirmed that they would file an appeal on the dropped charges in the coming days.

Turkish president employs obscure law
The Turkish president brought up charges against the comedian under a rarely-used, obscure German law (paragraph 103) drafted in 1871 that makes it illegal to insult foreign leaders; thus, German prosecutors were forced to initiate a probe into the matter. This case has led the German government to repeal the law, which doesn’t exist in most other European countries, by 2018.

Böhmermann’s poem, which he deliberately executed as a test of Germany’s satirical boundaries, was more than just a poem as it was prefaced by an explanation that what he was about to read was illegal, constructing it as a fuller piece on satire and legality. The poem accused the Turkish president of various offenses, including the repression of minorities, also making references to bestiality.

** UPDATE: A Hamburg court on 10 February 2017 kept a ban in place on the more explicit parts of Böhmermann’s poem, meaning if the poem is re-published it will be without the “offensive” passages.


Photo: Screen shot from Böhmermann’s video statement on YouTube


» Deutsche Welle – 10 February 2017:
Court rules against Böhmermann’s Erdogan poem

» Deutsche Welle – 5 October 2016:
Böhmermann speaks out after dropped investigation in video statement and song

» Deutsche Welle – 4 October 2016:
Praise as Germany drops charges against Böhmermann

» BBC – 4 October 2016:
Germany drops Turkey President Erdogan insult case

» Reuters – 4 October 2016:
Prosecutors drop probe of German comedian over satirical Erdogan poem

More from Freemuse

» 23 May 2016: Germany: Court bans two-thirds of satirical poem mocking Turkish president

» 29 April 2016: Germany: Turkey attempts to stop EU funding orchestra performance

» 20 April 2016: Turkey: Baby donkeys, insults and presidents

» 18 April 2016: Germany: Comedian faces potential prosecution for criticising Turkish president

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