Intercept - Americans wondering what life might be like in the near future — after a President Donald Trump acts on his promise to “open up our libels laws,” so that politicians with easily bruised egos can sue reporters or commentators for hurting their feelings — should pay attention to what is happening this week in Germany.
That’s because German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that her government, while being fully committed to the principle of free speech, is considering a request from Turkey to file criminal charges against the host of a late-night television show on the state broadcaster, ZDF. His alleged crime? Joking about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s thin skin by reading examples of actual slanderous statements about him, in the form of a poem.
In her remarks on Tuesday, Merkel said that the German authorities, including her office, were “very carefully” considering the request from Turkey to prosecute Böhmermann, and promised that the investigation would be concluded within days. The chancellor also seemed to acknowledge the delicacy of the diplomatic situation, by noting the importance of a recently struck deal with Turkey to accept refugees deported from the European Union. But, she said, cooperation with Turkey on that issue “is completely independent of fundamental rights in Germany,” including, Merkel noted, Article Five of the German constitution, which guarantees “freedom of the press, opinion and academia.”
Despite that provision, Germany, like many European countries, does impose legal limits on free speech that ban certain kinds of statements, including Holocaust denial and the promotion of Nazi ideology, but also “defamation of the President, insult of the Federal Republic, its states, the flag, and the national anthem.”
Still, the fact that Merkel is even considering the prosecution of the satirist at the behest of Erdogan has angered Germans across the political spectrum, who have rallied to Böhmermann’s defense online and accused the chancellor of compromising on a core principle of German society to appease the Turkish demagogue.