The New York Times has slammed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for caving in to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and allowing a court to investigate a comedian for insulting the increasingly authoritarian Turkish leader.
"Chancellor Merkel had to decide between appeasing Mr Erdogan's outrageous demand or potentially losing a deal with Turkey that promised some relief from the refugee crisis," the Times wrote in an editorial published Tuesday.
The chancellor sent the "wrong signal" on Friday when she granted a request from Ankara to open a formal criminal investigation against comedian Jan Boehmermann, after he joked in a televised poem that Erdogan enjoys child pornography and has sex with animals.
The case comes against the background of a major deal between the EU and Ankara to return migrants to Turkey as part of efforts to cope with an influx that saw more than 1 million desperate people cross the Mediterranean to enter the EU in 2015.
It was akin to paying a ransom to kidnappers, the Times wrote: It "solves the immediate problem but sets a dangerous precedent."
"Now the question is what Mr Erdogan — or some other miffed potentate — will demand next," the editorial went on to ask.
"The trouble is that Mr Erdogan was not just going after an obscure comedian; he was also demanding that the head of the German government publicly recognize his claim that it is wrong to ridicule him."
The newspaper pointed out that Turkey's justice minister had revealed that there are currently 1,845 cases against people for insulting the president. Erdogan "can now claim that the West accepts the legitimacy of his approach," the newspaper wrote.
The freedom to make fun of political leaders is one of the main differences between liberal democracies like Germany and the US and autocratic states like Turkey, Russia and China, the editorial said.
Merkel was right to make a deal with Erdogan to ease the refugee crisis, the newspaper wrote, but "she should have made clear to Mr Erdogan that Western freedoms were not on the table."