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Germany Drops Investigation Of Comic Whose Poem Insulted Turkey's Leader

Comedian Jan Boehmermann during an award ceremony in Duesseldorf, Germany, in January.
Rold Vennenbernd
AFP/Getty Images
Comedian Jan Boehmermann during an award ceremony in Duesseldorf, Germany, in January.

German prosecutors have dropped a controversial investigation of a comedian who read a lewd poem on German television mocking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, citing a lack of evidence.

As we reported at the time, German Chancellor Angela Merkel drew widespread criticism from free speech advocates when she allowed the investigation against Jan Boehmermann to move forward in April, at Turkey's request.

Germany has a little-used law that criminalizes insulting foreign heads of state.

The controversy actually began because of a completely different video clip mocking Erdogan. That music video, released on the German comedy program Extra3, prompted Turkey to summon the German ambassador.

In the wake of the first controversy, Boehmermann appeared on German television and read his crude poem, which "said Erdogan kicks Kurds, smacks Christians, all while watching child pornography," as we have reported. There were also references to bestiality.

At the time, Boehmermann said that his poem was meant to be an example of insults that wouldn't be allowed in Germany, rather than to represent his own personal opinion about Erdogan. That's one reason that prosecutors say they've stopped their investigation, as The Associated Press reported. Here's more:

"Prosecutors said the right to freedom of opinion could not be guaranteed without any reservations, but pointed out that Boehmermann's recital was intended to be an example of what would constitute overstepping the boundaries of freedom of opinion rather than Boehmermann expressing his own views.

" 'Exaggerations, distortion and alienation are characteristics of the genre of satire and caricature,' prosecutors said in a statement."

In a statement on YouTube after the prosecutors' announcement, Bohmermann said, "It is now officially established, at least provisionally, that this was a joke at heart." He added, "[The joke] was tasteless for some, while others at that time found it just right," according to translation by Deutshe Welle.

Bohmermann also criticized some German politicians over the investigation, the network reported, saying "If a joke triggers a state crisis, it is not the problem of the joke, but of the state."

He concluded with a rousing rendition of Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," starting at 5 minutes into the video statement:

The matter is not entirely over. "In a separate civil case, a Hamburg court in May granted an injunction ordering Boemermann not to repeat most of the offending poem," according to the AP. "A full hearing on that case is due in November."

The AP also reports that a lawyer for Erdogan plans to challenge the decision to drop the charges.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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