German prosecutors have dropped a controversial case against a comedian accused of criminally “insulting” the Turkish President with a satirical poem.
Jan Böhmermann’s expletive-filled work, aired on German television earlier this year, sparked a diplomatic row between Ankara and Berlin with allusions to bestiality, child sex abuse and ethnic discrimination.
It described Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “stupid, cowardly and uptight” before descending into sexual references and language later described by judges in Hamburg as “abusive and libellous content”.
Introducing it on television, Mr Böhmermann said he was conducting an experiment to illustrate the boundary between legitimate criticism and illegal abusive criticism (Schmähkritik) under German law.
But Angela Merkel controversially granted a request from the Turkish government to open an investigation into whether the satirist had broken a little-used section of Germany’s criminal code, which bans insulting the representatives of international governments.
On Tuesday, the public prosecutor in Mainz said that an investigation had found “no sufficient evidence” of offences committed either by Mr Böhmermann or others involved in the poem’s creation or broadcast.
A statement said the context in which it was delivered made clear the claims were “exaggerated and absurd”, and not meant to be taken as serious allegations against Mr Erdogan.
Prosecutors said it was therefore was “questionable” whether the poem constituted slander, given its satirical nature, and that the “from the lack of earnestness or any seriously intended connection to the personal dignity of (Mr Erdogan), it was meant to be immediately clear to every listener that it was a joke”.
It originally aired on the Neo Magazin Royale programme on 31 March as a response to another satirical German song (“Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan”) that provoked outrage from Turkey earlier in the month.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan's most controversial quotes
Recep Tayyip Erdogan's most controversial quotes
1/8 The Turkish President's craziest quotes
Just a week before he was elected President, he called Erdogan Amberin Zaman, the Turkey correspondent for 'The Economist', a "shameless militant woman disguised under the name of a journalist" after she had asked an opposition leader whether "Muslim society is able to question" the authorities. "Know your place," Erdoğan said. "They gave you a pen and you are writing a column in a newspaper. "And then they invite you to a TV channel owned by Doğan media group and you insult at a society of 99 per cent Muslims," he said he said according to Today's Zaman newspaper.
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images
2/8 The Turkish President's craziest quotes
Turkish people are pictured chanting slogans during an anti-government protest on Taksim square in Istanbul, on 29 June, 2013. The protests were sparked by brutal police action against a local conservation battle to save Istanbul's Gezi Park, and soon turned into nationwide demonstrations against the government. Amid the protests - the worst in Turkey for years - Erdogan accused demonstrators of being "arm-in-arm with terrorism," according to Reuters. "This is a protest organized by extremist elements. We will not give away anything to those who live arm-in-arm with terrorism," he said.
GURCAN OZTURK/AFP/Getty Images
3/8 The Turkish President's craziest quotes
During last year’s protests, activists used social media to organise and disseminate information. Several dozen tweeters were arrested following the protests, according to local media reports. Erdogan responded by calling the technology a "menace". "There is now a menace which is called Twitter," Erdogan said. "The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society," BBC New reported.
Vladimir Astapkovich/RIA Novosti via Getty Images
4/8 The Turkish President's craziest quotes
Not helping to allay accusations of authoritarianism, after Turkish police detained 49 people, including well-known business people and those close to the ruling party, Erdeogan ominously told reporter that Turkey "is not a banana republic" that can be affected by unnamed "operations", according to Today's Zaman newspaper. “People who are backed by the media and certain funders cannot change this country," he said. "People backed by certain dark gangs both inside and outside Turkey cannot mess with the country's path. They cannot change conditions in Turkey. Turkey is not a country that anyone can launch an operation into. The [Turkish] nation will not allow that. The AK Party, which is governing this nation, will not allow this."
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5/8 The Turkish President's craziest quotes
Friends and relatives of the miners who died in an explosion at the Soma mine are pictured praying following the burial in Soma cemetery of the last body to be recovered from the mine in May 2014. At the time, the then-Prime Minister badly misjudged the Soma mining disaster, in which 301 workers died. He told the relatives of dead and dying miners that "these types of incidents are ordinary things", following allegations that the government had ignored safety concerns about the privately owned mine, the Guardian reported. In his defence, Erdogan recounted in a separate speech a list of mining disasters which occurred abroad, including a British disaster in 1862, and one in America "which has every kind of technology".
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6/8 The Turkish President's craziest quotes
Palestinians pictured attending Friday noon prayers in a destroyed mosque that was hit by Israeli strikes, in Gaza City. As Prime Minister, Erdogan has condemned Israel, accusing it of deliberately killing Palestinian mothers and warned that the it would "drown in the blood it sheds." Speaking to thousands of supporters during a rally in Istanbul ahead of the 10 August election, Reuters reported him as saying: "Just like Hitler, who sought to establish a race free of all faults, Israel is chasing after the same target." "They kill women so that they will not give birth to Palestinians; they kill babies so that they won't grow up; they kill men so they can't defend their country ... They will drown in the blood they shed," he said.
7/8 The Turkish President's craziest quotes
Amid the worst protests in Turkey for years which had spread across dozens of cities last June, Erdogan accused demonstrators of being "arm-in-arm with terrorism," according to Reuters. A demonstration to halt construction in a park in an Istanbul square grew into mass protests against a heavy-handed police crackdown and what opponents called Erdogan's authoritarian policies. "This is a protest organized by extremist elements," Erdogan said before departing on a trip to North Africa. "We will not give away anything to those who live arm-in-arm with terrorism," he said.
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images
8/8 The Turkish President's craziest quotes
In March 2014, Erdogan accused a 15-year-old boy who died from injuries sustained in last year's anti-government protests of being linked to terrorism. Berkin Elvan, who became a symbol of anti-government protests, had gone to pick up bread when he was hit with a teargas canister - sending him into a nine-month coma before he passed away. In a speech broadcast on state TV, Erdogan said of Berkin: "This kid with steel marbles in his pockets, with a slingshot in his hand, his face covered with a scarf, who had been taken up into terror organisations, was unfortunately subjected to pepper gas. “How could the police determine how old that person was who had a scarf on his face and was hurling steel marbles with a slingshot in his hand?”
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The ensuing political furore became known as the Böhmermann Affair, seeing the Chancellor heavily criticised for allowing the criminal case to be opened as human rights groups voiced their indignation.
Broadcasters at ZDF television withdrew the passage with the poem from its archives but argued that it did not break the law, while a Hamburg court granted a temporary injunction banning “abusive” parts of the work being repeated.
But the poem was read out in full by a German MP during a parliamentary debate and politicians around the world rallied to Mr Böhmermann’s cause.
Among them was Boris Johnson, now the Foreign Secretary, who won a competition for an offensive poem about Mr Erdogan by penning a limerick calling the Turkish President a “wankerer”.
It is an offence to insult the Turkish nation or the national flag but the case was believed to be the only in recent times where such offences had been formally investigated abroad.
Mr Erdogan is known for his sensitivity to criticism, with prosecutors opening more than 1,800 cases against people for alleged insults since he took office in 2014.