Turkish leader files complaint against 'insulting' poem read on German TV

BERLIN (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has filed a complaint against a comedian who recited a satirical and sexually crude poem about him on German television, complicating Berlin’s attempts to get Turkey’s help in dealing with Europe’s migrant crisis.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the Brookings Institute in Washington March 31, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The issue pits freedom of speech values that are core to Western Europe against recent moves in Turkey by Erdogan that critics say crack down on dissent.

The public prosecutor’s office in the western city of Mainz said Erdogan had filed the complaint via lawyers against Jan Boehmermann for insulting him. Boehmermann is the host of the late-night “Neo Magazin Royale” on the public ZDF channel.

In a program broadcast on March 31, Boehmermann had recited a poem about Erdogan that contained crude sexual references and accusations that Erdogan repressed minorities and mistreated Kurds and Christians.

Before reading it, Boehmermann referred to a satirical song broadcast on NDR television that had mocked Erdogan for his authoritarian treatment of journalists. That show led Turkey to call in Germany’s envoy to provide an explanation, although Germany rejected Turkish protests.

Boehmermann said the NDR broadcast fell under the right to artistic freedom, press freedom and freedom of opinion and said his poem was an example of impermissible “abusive criticism”.

Prosecutors said Erdogan’s complaint would be examined as part of a pending procedure. They had already begun investigating Boehmermann on suspicion of the crime of “offending foreign states’ organs and representatives” after more than 20 people filed complaints.

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On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said Berlin was examining a formal request made by Turkey for it to prosecute Boehmermann and a decision would be made in the next days.

Merkel, who has spearheaded EU efforts to secure Turkey’s help in dealing with Europe’s migrant crisis, has told Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in a telephone conversation that the poem was “deliberately offensive”.

If the government decides to decline the Turkish request to prosecute Boehmermann, she risks a worsening of diplomatic relations with Turkey, Wolfgang Kubicki, senior member of Germany’s business-friendly FDP party, told NDR radio.

“If the government were to support the move, there would be a huge backlash domestically,” he said, adding that in his opinion as a trained lawyer the poem was “distasteful” but within the limits of artistic freedom.

Reporting by Michelle Martin and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Matthew Lewis/Jeremy Gaunt