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Germany Bows to the Caliph
German Court Censors Anti-Erdogan Comic

A German court has ruled against the comic who who wrote an a poem stridently satirical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Reuters reports:

A Hamburg court issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday banning re-publication of sections of a satirical poem by a German comedian mocking Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, saying they amounted to abuse and libel.

Comedian Jan Boehmermann recited a poem on television in March suggesting Erdogan engaged in bestiality and watched child pornography, prompting the Turkish leader to file a complaint with prosecutors that he had been insulted.

In a separate complaint, lawyers for Erdogan also asked a court in Hamburg to ban re-publication of the poem.

In its injunction, which applies to the whole of Germany, the Hamburg court marked in red 18 of the poem’s 24 verses, which it said were “abusive and defaming.”

It said its decision, which may be appealed, was based on the need to find a balance between preserving the right to artistic freedom and the personal rights of Erdogan.

“Through the poem’s reference to racist prejudice and religious slander as well as sexual habits the verses in question go beyond what the petitioner (Erdogan) can be expected to tolerate,” the Hamburg court wrote.

The six verses the court did not ban, include references to Turkey’s treatment of minorities.

When Chancellor Merkel authorized the prosecution against Boehmermann, her spin was that the black letter of the law supported the charge, but that she was confident the courts would rule on the side of the larger issue of freedom of speech. (Her real reason, of course, was Germany’s reliance on Turkish cooperation with the refugee crisis.)

But this ruling suggests that this was more buck-passing than a real plan. As in America, local courts can vary quite a bit in their rulings: while one German court already struck a pro-free speech line by blocking an injunction against another Erdogan critic, this one has opted for the kind of line-by-line editing of a work of art—selecting which bits are and aren’t acceptable—that literal press censors historically performed. A higher court may yet overturn the ruling, but while we are not lawyers (much less German lawyers), it’s clear that nothing is guaranteed.

It’s also becoming increasingly clear that the German public have had enough of being told how to think by the Turkish President. Merkel is currently facing a political revolt demanding the recognition of the massacre of over 1 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 as a genocide, a move  fiercely opposed by the modern Turkish government. News like this is likely to increase the popular desire to flip Turkey the bird in German. Meanwhile, this comes just as Erdogan has taken an even tighter grip on his country’s political process by ousting his PM and taking a hard line on Europe. Warning: collision likely ahead.

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