Merkel gives tentative backing to comedian who insulted Erdogan

Chancellor Angela Merkel has given tentative backing to a German comedian whose satirical video angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying freedom of speech is important regardless of Germany's political dealings with Ankara.

Erdogan filed a defamation complaint against Jan Boehmermann, who - in a controversial video shown on German television - accused the Turkish head of state of watching child porn and performing sex acts with animals.

A police spokesman in Cologne said that following a risk assessment of the situation, Boehmermann was placed under protection with a patrol car sitting in front of his house.

Erdogan's complaint would be considered part of the same investigation already launched this month to determine whether Boehmermann's video violates a law criminalizing insults against foreign heads of state, The Mainz prosecutor's office said.

Although the German government has distanced itself from the video, Merkel said that fundamental values including freedom of speech and artistic expression "will be upheld irrespective of all the political problems that we discuss with one another."

She was referring to efforts by the European Union to cooperate with Turkey on managing the refugee crisis, which critics say have given Erdogan undue leverage in his dealings with the bloc.

Merkel said Tuesday that her government would carefully consider Turkey's request and reach a conclusion "within days."

A YouGov poll released on Tuesday showed the majority of Germans rallying around Boehmermann, with 54 per cent saying the criminal investigation into his actions is "not at all appropriate."

Only 6 per cent of respondents are in favour of the probe, while a fifth deem it "somewhat appropriate," the poll showed. Another 20 per cent of respondents say the investigation is "somewhat inappropriate."

Germany's criminal code provides for up to three years in prison or a fine for insulting a foreign head of state, and up to one year in prison or a fine for defamation.

Stefan Engels, a Hamburg-based media law expert, said Tuesday the Boehmermann case had the potential to reach Germany's highest court.

"At the end of the day, [the Constitutional Court in] Karlsruhe may have to redefine some of the legal boundaries" that are being tested by this case, Engels told dpa.

This Thursday's edition of Boehmermann's late night show Neo Magazin Royale has been cancelled as a result of the furore, his production company announced Tuesday.

Last update: Tue, 12/04/2016 - 22:16
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