Germany said on Monday it was examining a formal request made by Turkey for it to prosecute a comedian who recited an obscene poem about Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a satirical show on national television.
German prosecutors have already begun investigating Jan Boehmermann, the iconoclastic host of the late-night “Neo Magazin Royale” on the public channel ZDF, on suspicion of the crime of “offending foreign states’ organs and representatives”.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said the Turkish embassy had sent Germany’s foreign ministry a cable with “a formal request from the Turkish side for a prosecution in connection with comments made in this broadcast.”
“The content of this cable and the way forward will now be carefully examined by the government,” Seibert told a regular government news conference. “It will take a few days. I can’t and don’t want to anticipate the results of this examination.”
The incident is awkward for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has spearheaded EU efforts to secure Turkey’s help in dealing with Europe’s migrant crisis. She has told Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in a telephone conversation that the poem was “deliberately offensive”.
Boehmermann, who has made a name for himself by pushing the boundaries of satire in a once-staid media landscape, made clear on the show that he was courting controversy.
Before reading his poem, Boehmermann referred to a satirical song broadcast on NDR television that had mocked Erdogan for his authoritarian treatment of journalists. That led Turkey to call in Germany’s envoy to provide an explanation, although Germany rejected Turkish protests.
Speaking as if he were addressing Erdogan, Boehmermann explained that the NDR broadcast had fallen under the right to artistic freedom, press freedom and freedom of opinion.
On Monday, Seibert stressed that an article in Germany’s constitution on freedom of opinion was of the utmost importance to Merkel and was non-negotiable, regardless of whether or not she found an opinion tasteful or tasteless.
Seibert also noted that Boehmermann had himself said his broadcast was “a conscious breach of limits”.
“Solving the refugee issue is in the joint interests of Germany, the European Union and Turkey,” Seibert added.
“The fundamental values of the constitution are non-negotiable, independent of whether Germany works with others to jointly tackle political challenges.”