German prosecutors drop probe into comedian's anti-Erdogan satire

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) launched a criminal complaint against German TV comic Jan Boehmermann, who had insulted him in a so-called "defamatory poem" (AFP Photo/)
Hui Min Neo

Berlin (AFP) - German prosecutors said Tuesday they have scrapped an investigation into a TV comedian for allegedly insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as the satire was so exaggerated it could not be taken seriously.

"The results of the investigation show that criminal acts could not be proven," prosecutors said in a statement, adding that they were therefore halting the probe into Jan Boehmermann, whose "Defamatory Poem" had unleashed a bitter row between Germany and Turkey.

During a March broadcast on public television, Boehmermann recited the piece accusing Erdogan of bestiality and paedophilia with a broad grin, and admitted that it flouted Germany's legal limits to free speech and was intended as a provocation.

The comedian was reacting to Ankara's decision to summon Germany's ambassador in protest at another satirical song broadcast on German TV which lampooned Erdogan in far tamer language.

But Boehmermann's piece did not go down well in Ankara and prompted Erdogan to file a criminal complaint.

Chancellor Angela Merkel in April authorised the probe into whether the comic could be convicted under rarely enforced lese majeste legislation -- a decision that earned her a sharp rebuke from civic rights groups at home.

In a statement outlining the grounds for dropping the case, prosecutors in the western city of Mainz noted that 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".

Boehmermann himself has defined TV shows such as his as a "nonsense programme", they said.

"In view of the exaggerations... there is no evidence that the accused was making a serious attack on the personal or social reputation of the Turkish president," prosecutors concluded.

- 'An error' -

The row over Boehmermann's poem had erupted at an awkward time as Germany and Europe are relying on Turkey to stem an influx of migrants.

In allowing the investigation to go ahead under the rarely-enforced section 103 of the criminal code -- insulting organs or representatives of foreign states -- Merkel was criticised for compromising basic values to placate Erdogan.

The chancellor herself stood by her decision, describing it as "fair", but she expressed regret that her spokesman Steffen Seibert had said she viewed the poem as "deliberately insulting".

"With hindsight, it was an error," Merkel said back in April, adding that the remark could have given the impression that "freedom of opinion is not important, that freedom of the press is not important".

As a result of the embarrassing affair, Merkel has since announced that Germany would by 2018 scrap section 103 of the criminal code.

Welcoming Tuesday's decision, Boehmermann's lawyer Daniel Krause said the prosecutors have "made a decision of a constitutional democracy and withstood political pressure".

"That deserves to be emphasised and respected," Krause said.

Boehmermann said on Twitter that he would make a statement on the case on Wednesday.

Christian Schertz, who represents the comic in a separate civil case brought by Erdogan seeking a complete ban on the "Defamatory Poem", said he now expects the second legal action to also be dismissed.

He hit out at Merkel for allowing her spokesman to describe the poem as insulting, saying unlike the German leader, the prosecutors have made an accurate assessment of the poem by taking it in its overall context of satire.

The Hamburg court is due to hear the civil case on November 2.