German Chancellor Angela Merkel has approved a criminal investigation into a comedian who used poetry to criticize Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A request by Turkey to investigate Jan Böhmermann for a satirical poem he read on German television station ZDF was given the green light by Merkel on Friday. Her hand was forced by an obscure law that forces the German government to determine whether a criminal probe may be launched against a citizen when a foreign nation makes a request.
“Under the rule of law, it is not the job of the government but of prosecutors and the courts to weigh personal rights and other concerns against freedom of the press and of the arts,” Merkel said Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Merkel was skewered from within her own party for favoring diplomatic ties with Turkey over press freedom.
“I think this decision is wrong. Criminal proceedings against satire for ‘insulting a majesty’ do not fit in with modern Germany,” Thomas Oppermann, the head of the Social Democrats, tweeted Friday.
“Ms. Merkel will have to live with the accusation that she caved to Erdogan,” added Anton Hofreiter, head of the opposition, center-left Greens in parliament, the Journal reported.
German authorities may now use a penal code established in 1871 to investigate Böhmermann, BBC reported Friday.
Paragraph 103 of Germany’s penal code states, “Whosoever insults a foreign head of state, or, with respect to his position, a member of a foreign government who is in Germany in his official capacity, or a head of a foreign diplomatic mission who is accredited in the Federal territory shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine, in case of a slanderous insult to imprisonment from three months to five years.”
The code is referred to as the “Shah law” among German lawyers because the Shah of Persia successfully waged a legal battle against a Cologne newspaper in 1964, BBC reported.
Merkel approved an investigation into Böhmermann despite saying the law is “unnecessary for the future” and should be repealed by next year.
Germany recently approved a deal with Erdogan that will send all migrants from the Middle East who arrived after March 20 back to Turkey in exchange for nearly $7 billion in assistance for Syrian refugees. The deal was completed after voters punished Merkel’s Christian Democrats, or CDU, in March’s region elections. Germans were furious over the crime that followed her decision to welcome 1.1 million migrants into the country in 2015.
A Turkish official told the Journal that no threats were made to back out of its migrant deal if Böhmermann was not investigated.
“This is not a matter of press freedom,” the official told said. “There’s a personal insult here and our president used his legal rights, which is a very natural response. From here on, it’s a judiciary matter. We won’t be doing anything more.”
More than 1,800 criminal cases have been initiated in Turkey for individuals who upset Erdogan since 2014, CNN reported Friday.