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Turkey's complaint could land German comedian in jail

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Turkey's complaint could land German comedian in jail
TV comic Jan Böhmermann (l) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (r). Photos: DPA
10:32 CEST+02:00
Turkey has officially complained to the German Foreign Ministry about a defamatory poem read on air by TV comedian Jan Böhmermann, meaning he could be prosecuted under a little-used German law.

Government sources told news agency DPA on Sunday that a “verbal note” from Turkey had been received at the Foreign Ministry demanding that Böhmermann be punished.

It was the one missing element in the case against Böhmermann under a little-used German law against "insulting a foreign head of state" - which requires the country concerned to complain before prosecution can be launched.

Now he could face up to five years in jail if prosecutors decide to go ahead with a legal case.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday that the government was examining whether Böhmermann should be prosecuted and would decide within a few days.

But he insisted that freedom of art and of the press were "non-negotiable" for the Chancellor.

The comedian had read his poem, titled “libellous criticism”, aloud on his show Neo Magazin Royale on public broadcaster ZDF on March 31st.

Böhmermann said he wanted to show Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan what defamation really looked like after the leader complained over a satirical song broadcast by a different German show.

“What I’m about to read is not allowed. If it were to be read in public - that would be forbidden in Germany,” Böhmermann said, before proceeding to perform the poem, which among many insults called Erdogan a “goat fucker” who “watches child porn while kicking Kurds.”

The poem was cut from the online version of the show by ZDF editors but republished on the Bild newspaper website.

And it was criticized by Merkel in a phone call with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, when she called the work a "deliberate insult" to his President.

Since then the possible deployment of a near-forgotten law criminalizing insults against foreign heads of state has turned the poem into “a kind of state crisis" in Germany, as Mathias Döpfner, head of the powerful Axel Springer publishing house, wrote in an open letter to the comic.

Döpfner even went so far as to back Böhmermann in all his attacks on Erdogan and say he would be prepared to join the comedian in the dock.

Meanwhile, there was near radio silence from Böhmermann himself over the weekend, with the comedian dropping his Berlin regional show and limiting his activity on social media to a few retweets.

On Friday the TV comic even avoided the Grimme Prize award ceremony, where he had been slated to pick up a prize for his video satirizing a middle finger gesture directed at Germany by former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.

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