German comic in Erdogan satire row suspends TV show

German comic in Erdogan satire row suspends TV show
Böhmermann said in his online comments that he felt a "great solidarity" from the German people. Photo: DPA
A German comedian whose satirical poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has unleashed a bitter row about freedom of speech has decided to suspend his own TV show, he announced on his Facebook page on Saturday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday authorised criminal proceedings sought by Turkey against the popular comic Jan Böhmermann who could be convicted under the rarely-enforced section 103 of the criminal code — insulting organs or representatives of foreign states.

Merkel's decision has appalled rights bodies such as Human Rights Watch which on Saturday called on the German authorities to defend freedom of speech “even if the contents of the speech are offensive to some”.

In light of the swirling controversy Böhmermann said he was taking a “televisual” pause “to allow the public to concentrate again on really important matters such as the refugee crisis, videos of cats or the love life of (German actress and model) Sophia Thomalla”.

German prosecutors have opened a preliminary probe against Böhmermann over his so-called “Defamatory Poem”, recited with a broad grin on public television, accusing Erdogan of bestiality and watching child porn.

During the broadcast on March 31, Böhmermann gleefully admitted the piece flouted Germany's legal limits to free speech and was intended as a provocation.

Merkel is said to have called the poem “deliberately insulting” during a telephone call with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davotoglu. 

Böhmermann said in his online comments that he felt a “great solidarity” from the German people.

“But it also puts me in a difficult situation,” he added, with the xenophobic far-right taking his side “who can I still make jokes about?”

The incident has soured German-Turkish relations at a time when Ankara is vital to the European Union's plans to tackle its current refugee crisis.

The EU and Ankara in March agreed a deal to ensure so-called economic migrants who travel to the Greek islands on boats operated by people smugglers are quickly sent back to Turkey, which has agreed to take them in return for billions in EU cash.

Some media commentators have suggested that given the geopolitical situation Merkel has no wish to upset Turkey.

The TV comic has meanwhile received vocal support from numerous media and cultural figures.

“The authorities should not afford heads of state greater privilege against provocative speech,” Human Rights Watch said.