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German Comedian May Face Prison for Insulting Turkish President

Jan Boehmermann, host of the late-night "Neo Magazin Royale" on the public ZDF channel is pictured during a TV show in Hamburg, Germany, August 21, 2012. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants him prosecuted for a satirical and sexually crude poem a
Jan Boehmermann, host of the late-night "Neo Magazin Royale" on the public ZDF channel is pictured during a TV show in Hamburg, Germany, August 21, 2012. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants him prosecuted for a satirical and sexually crude poem a
German Comedian May Face Prison Time for Insulting Turkish President
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A German comedian may face up to three years in prison for insulting the president of Turkey.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that her government will accept a request for legal action against comedian Jan Bohmermann.

Bohmermann, 35, is the host of the popular German television show "Neo Magazin Royale."

During part of the March 31 episode of the show, he stood in front of a Turkish flag and a picture of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Bohmermann then read a poem full of profanity and criticism of Erdogan.

The poem included sexual comments and suggestions that Erdogan mistreated Christian and Kurdish minorities. The comedian also called the Turkish president a "professional idiot."

Bohmermann said he was trying to be offensive.

ZDF is a government-owned public television broadcaster based in Mainz, Germany. ZDF broadcasts the show "New Magazin Royale."

A day after Bohmermann read the poem, the broadcaster took the episode offline. ZDF then brought the episode back without the poem 24 hours later.

But this did not stop the Turkish president from taking action. The Turkish embassy filed a complaint against Bohmermann a week after the original broadcast.

This complaint is based on a German law that prevents its citizens from insulting foreign leaders.

The law first appeared in the Prussian legal code of 1794. German lawyer Holger Heinin studied the law in law school. He told Radio Free Europe that the law does not fit today’s society.

"Between 1997 and 2000, there were no more than two convictions annually," he said.

The United States tried to make a complaint against a shop owner in the city of Marburg in 2003. The shop owner called then-President George W. Bush, a "state terrorist." But the German government decided this did not go against the law.

Michael-Hubertus von Sprenger is the lawyer in Germany representing the Turkish president. He said he is prepared to take this complaint to the highest court.

The conflict over the insulting poem puts Merkel in a difficult position. Millions of migrants have fled from conflict in Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern and North African countries.

Merkel and Erdogan agreed in March that Turkey would stop the flow of migrants across the Aegean Sea and into Europe. The agreement also states any migrants who cross the sea and enter Greece after April 4 will be sent back.

Erdogan has a history of reacting strongly to criticism. Since April 2014, when he became president, 1,845 court cases have been made against individuals insulting him.

Two of the top journalists at the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet are on trial for espionage. Police arrested the two after they published a video in May 2015. The newspaper claimed the video was evidence of the government bringing weapons to Syrian rebels in 2014.

Also, the government took control of Turkey’s biggest newspaper, Today’s Zaman, in March. The government claims the newspaper might have provided money illegally to Fethullah Gulen.

Based in the United States, Gulen is an Islamic religious leader and a major critic of Erdogan. Erdogan claims Gulen is trying to bring down his government.

Bohmermann has not yet gone to trial. But von Sprenger told ZDF he does not think Bohmermann will receive a very strong punishment.

"It will be a punishment that is necessary to get him back on the right path - to produce satire, and not gross insults," he said.

I’m Pete Musto.

Pete Musto wrote this story for Learning English. His report was based on reports from VOA, Radio Free Europe, Reuters and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

Now it’s your turn. How does the government handle criticism in your country? What is the difference between comedy and an insult? Let us know in the comments section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

comediann. a person who performs in front of a crowd and makes people laugh by telling jokes or funny stories or by acting in a way that is funny

hostn. a person who talks to guests on a television or radio show

episoden. a television show or radio show that is one part of a series

idiotn. a very stupid or foolish person

offlineadj. not connected to a computer, computer network, a television network or the Internet

conviction(s) – n. the act of proving that a person is guilty of a crime in a court of law

migrant(s) – n. a person who goes from one place to another especially to find work

espionagen. the things that are done to find out secrets from enemies or competitors

satiren. humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government or society

grossadj. offensive

complaint - n. an official protest