Charges dropped against German comic who satirically accused Erdogan of ‘bestiality’

Jan Boehmermann, host of the late-night "Neo Magazin Royale" on the public ZDF channel. © Morris Mac Matzen
Prosecutors in Germany have dropped a criminal case against a comedian who allegedly insulted Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan. The court found that the satire was so exaggerated that it could not have been taken seriously.

Jan Boehmermann caused controversy in March when he read a satirical poem on television that accused Erdogan of bestiality and pedophilia. The comedian admitted his verses flouted the legal limits on free speech, saying that the work was intended as a provocation. 

“[The] piece was part of a well-known satirical television broadcast, and that an average TV audience should therefore assume that statements made there are often accompanied by exaggerations which often lack seriousness,” the prosecutors said in a statement. “The results of the investigation show that criminal acts could not be proven.” 

Boehmermann read his Defamatory Poem on German television channel ZDF. He said he had created the piece in order to draw attention to a decision by Ankara to summon the German ambassador to Turkey after a song mocking Erdogan appeared on German television which used much milder language than that in Boehmermann’s poem. 

ZDF praised the German court’s decision to drop the charges, with the channel’s director-general Thomas Bellut declaring that this was “good news” for those seeking artistic freedom in the country. 

Meanwhile, the comedian’s lawyer, Daniel Krause, said that the court’s decision “deserved emphasis and respect,” Deutsche Welle reported. 

Boehmermann’s legal team had some harsh words for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, as it was the German leader who had greenlighted the investigation into the comedian, calling the poem “deliberately insulting.” 

The charge was originally filed by Erdogan himself, who wanted action to be taken against the comic under section 103 of Germany’s criminal code, which prohibits insulting heads of state, but the investigation could not have moved forward without approval from the German government. 

Merkel’s decision was criticized by Human Rights Watch, which said it was crucial for Germany to defend freedom of speech “even if the contents of the speech are offensive to some.” 

“Public prosecutors have met our legal position that we have expressed from the beginning,” said Boehmermann’s lawyer, Christian Schertz. 

“This is unlike the Chancellor, who apparently – while ignorant of the exact facts – let her spokesman sum up the satirical piece by Mr. Boehmermann straightaway under the blanket term of ‘deliberately hurtful.’” 

In July, Erdogan announced that he was dropping all insult-related lawsuits, which totaled around 2,000 both in Turkey and abroad. In the wake of that decision, the German-based Titanic magazine decided to publish a picture of the Turkish leader on its front cover with a sausage photoshopped over his groin area. 

“Erdogan’s stressed: Even his penis is staging a putsch,” the headline read, in reference to the failed coup attempt against the president. 

Relations between Germany and Turkey have been strained since the German parliament almost unanimously adopted a resolution on June 2 that formally calls the 1915 massacre of ethnic Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish forces “genocide.”

Ankara responded with a threat of retaliatory measures and denied German MPs access to Incirlik Airbase, which is used by Germany in the US-led campaign against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).