Germany Drops Case Against Comedian Charged With "Insulting" Turkish President

Jan Bohmermann
Courtesy of ZDF

Prosecutors said they had insufficient evidence to charge German comedian Jan Bohmermann for a lewd poem he read on air suggesting the authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had sex with goats.

German prosecutors on Tuesday dropped a controversial investigation into German comedian Jan Bohmermann for reading a poem allegedly insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying there was insufficient evidence to charge the comedian.

The Turkish government filed charges in April against Bohmermann, the host of a popular weekly news satire show, after he read a lewd poem live on air that, among other things, alleged that Erdogan enjoyed sex with goats.

The poem was intended to mock Erdogan's authoritarian leadership style and was in response to the Turkish President calling for another, much tamer, satire of him from another German comedy show to be taken off the internet. In Turkey, prosecutors have brought more than 1,800 cases against people for allegedly insulting Erdogan since he took office in 2014.

Introducing his poem on television, Bohmermann said he was conducting an experiment to illustrate the difference between legitimate criticism and illegal slander. Instead, the poem set off a spat between Germany and Turkey.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel controversially granted a request from Erdogan to open a criminal investigation into Bohmermann under an archaic German law which bans insulting representatives of international governments. The case was quickly taken up by freedom-of-expression advocates, including U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who won a competition started by a Berlin newspaper for the best offensive poem about Erdogan. Johnson's winning limerick called the Turkish President at “wankerer” and repeated the goat-sex bit.

On Tuesday, the public prosecutor in Mainz said that an investigation had found “no sufficient evidence” that Bohmermann or anyone else involved in the poem's creation or broadcast was guilty of an offense under the law. In a statement, the prosecutor said the context in which the poem was delivered made it clear the claims against Erdogan were “exaggerated and absurd,” and not meant to be taken seriously. “It was meant to be immediately clear to every listener that it was a joke,” they concluded.

Chancellor Merkel has called on the German parliament to abolish the archaic law on insulting foreign heads of state.