German comedian accused of insulting Erdogan takes four-week time out

German comedian Jan Boehmermann and production company btf will pause production of his show for four weeks amid a criminal probe against the satirist for a skit in which he ridiculed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Boehrmann said he was taking a "short TV break" on Facebook before German state broadcaster ZDF announced the four-week pause, saying it respected his decision in a statement.

In the Facebook post, the talk show host said he had decided to take time out "so that the local public and the internet can once again concentrate on the really important things, like the refugee crisis, cat videos and the love life of [German actress] Sophia Thomalla."

The production break of the show Neo Magazin Royale, which is hosted by Boehmermann and aired by ZDF, will last until May 12.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday granted Ankara's request to open a formal criminal probe against Boehmermann, affter he joked in a televised poem that Erdogan enjoys child pornography and has sex with animals.

The director of ZDF, Thomas Bellut, told Der Spiegel magazine Saturday that Boehmermann has the organization's full legal support and said that no one involved in the production of the comedian's show faces disciplinary action.

Boehmermann is being investigated under an obscure and rarely used section of the German criminal code that makes it illegal to insult a foreign head of state. By law, the government must approve any legal proceedings under the section.

If found guilty, Boehmermann could face a jail sentence.

The case has created a diplomatic and political headache for Merkel, who is accused by rights organizations and senior members of her coalition government of pandering to the increasingly authoritarian Turkish president.

Prominent journalists have recently been put on trial in Turkey and newspapers taken over by the government.

But Merkel needs Erdogan's support in stemming the flow of migrants to Europe, particularly in the wake of the European Union's controversial deal with Ankara to return migrants from Greece to Turkey.

In announcing that the investigation would go forward, Merkel called the article of the criminal code it is based on "expendable" and said it should be scrapped.

"By giving the go-ahead for a possible prosecution while acknowledging the law should be repealed, the German government is passing the buck for protecting free speech to the courts, instead of upholding its own human rights obligations," said Hugh Williamson, Europe director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

"The poem is certainly highly offensive, but it is in situations such as this when we need to stand up for protection of free speech," Williamson said. “Germany bears responsibility for having such a bad law on the books and the sooner it is repealed, the better.”

Last update: Sat, 16/04/2016 - 18:38

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