Germany mulls formal probe into comedian who insulted Erdogan

German government officials were meeting on Monday to decide how to respond to a request from Turkey to prosecute a German comedian who recited an explicit poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on public television.

Officials from the Foreign and Justice Ministries were meeting with Chancellery officials in Berlin to discuss a diplomatic notice sent by the Turkish ambassador to the Foreign Ministry on Sunday, demanding a criminal probe into comedian and talk show host Jan Boehmermann.

Boehmermann fuelled a diplomatic spat between Germany and Turkey late last month when he read a poem on air lampooning the Turkish head of state as "a professional idiot, cowardly and uptight" and accusing him of performing sex acts with animals.

In the controversial broadcast, Boehmermann expresses support for another satirical TV programme, broadcaster NDR's Extra 3, which made fun of Erdogan's authoritarian policies in its March 17 show and prompted Ankara to summon its German ambassador.

Public prosecutors in Mainz have already launched a preliminary investigation into Boehmermann and public broadcaster ZDF to determine whether the poem violates a law that criminalizes insults against representatives of foreign states.

A controversial deal the European Union struck with Ankara to return migrants from Greece to Turkey has given Erdogan political leverage in his dealings with the bloc.

Rights groups insist the country's campaign against the Kurdish minority in the south-east and its crackdown on the Turkish press should not be ignored as the EU struggles to get on top of the migration crisis.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday that official consultations on Turkey's request would last several days, adding that freedom of speech and artistic expression was a non-negotiable right both domestically and in relation to other countries.

He said that these freedoms would be upheld irrespective of Turkish-German cooperation in the refugee crisis, or Chancellor Angela Merkel's personal feelings about the video.

Last week, Boehmermann was named the winner of Germany's prestigious Grimme Prize for another satirical video that went viral in 2015. The comedian claimed he had faked footage of Greece's then finance minister Yanis Varoufakis giving the middle finger during a talk in Zagreb.

Varoufakis took to Twitter on Monday to voice his support for Boehmermann. "Europe first lost its soul (agreement with Turkey on refugees), now it is losing its humour. Hands off @janboehm!" he said.

Last update: Mon, 11/04/2016 - 15:28
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