April 16, 2016
Free speech rights in Germany took another worrying turn for the worse when German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally approved an investigation of a German citizen accused of insulting Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan, a world leader personally responsible for the erosion of free speech in this NATO member state.
The timing and enthusiasm, despite proffers to the contrary, of the German government’s persecution of satirist Jan Böhmermann for his broadcast of a poem critical of President Erdoğan coincides directly with the German Government trying to reach a re-settlement agreement with Turkey to address the refugee crisis besieging many European nations–a situation politically damaging to Merkel’s image.
We featured numerous articles relating to President Erdoğan’s attacks on newspapers, individuals, internationals, and any critics of him who are within reach of this grasp, citing a bizarre form of Lèse majesté laws as justification. Now, Merkel is demonstrating a willingness to use a rather dusty remnant of such a statute in Germany as a tool to preserve the ego of a foreign head of state, to accomplish a domestic political goal.
For his part, Mr Böhmermann risks five years incarceration for the act of reciting poetry. In several day’s time, he became a convenient scapegoat to placate a foreign leader bent on resurrecting a Neo-Ottoman-Empire, with Erdoğan as its sultan.
Evidence of why the Federal Government prosecuted Mr. Böhrmann could be found in the foreign official cited in the poem. I suspect the German government has a very short list of persons prosecuted under its Lèse majesté statutes and that suspects are cherry picked based on their profile and geopolitics
It is also a telling sign that such a prosecution is instigated for political reasons when national level politicians personally involve themselves in minor local criminal matters alleged against ordinary citizens. In this case, why would a German Chancellor, and her supporting political party have any interest in a poet’s recitals?
Ordinary people, cast by their governments into jail for political purposes, this is not a quality indicative of a democratic nation; unless of course it is democratic in name only, such as was the case with the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. Certainly Chancellor Merkel is familiar with free speech restrictions she resided there prior to unification.
Surely after all the chaos injected into the lives of these citizens, if they are not imprisoned and forgotten in time, they will instead find “justice” and be permitted the opportunity to return to being free men as if it was some form of gift from their former accusers.
During the plight of this unfortunate poet, I could not help but be reminded of George Witten’s book “Scapegoats of the Empire”, a novel characterizing he and his cohort Australian soldiers serving her majesty in the Boer Wars of the Early 1900’s. They were placed on trial for murder and largely handed their fates by a court to placate the empire’s enemies and absolve their government’s sometimes barbarous treatment of civilians and other combatants.
In the film adaption, titled “Breaker Morant”, Lord Kitchener, commander of British forces in the theater, discusses with his adjutant Colonel Hamilton how the adjudication of these soldiers must proceed:
Lord Kitchener: Good God Johnny I am not trying to prove a point. I’m trying to put and end to this useless war. The Boer leaders must see this court martial as a demonstration of our impartial justice. If these three Austrailians had to be–sacrificed–to help bring about a peace conference, small price to pay?
Col. Ian ‘Johnny’ Hamilton: I quite agree sir, though I doubt the Australians share our enthusiasm.
In the film, the extinguishment of the lives of two soldiers was partly addressed to the Germans. They served as scapegoats for the sins of the politicians and gifts to foreign kings. The irony today is that now it is the Germans who seek to sacrifice a citizen or two to entreat a foreign leader who endeavors to be a king, or sultan if you will.
But if that wasn’t enough to demonstrate an irony, the same German leadership and her rubberstamp political party also declared their belief that these Lèse majesté statutes should be repealed as relics of the past. Perhaps irony is not the proper word. It is better defined as reprehensible.
Deutsche Welle had an interesting article describing the predicament nicely:
Justice Minister Heiko Maas, a member of the SPD, said the decision on whether or not Böhmermann’s poem was satire or defamation is entirely up to the courts.
“The question of whether Böhmermann’s comments were satire or defamation will be decided nevertheless by the courts in accordance with the law and independent of whether the request for prosecution is granted or not,” Maas told reporters.
Maas also confirmed Merkel’s desire to do away with Germany’s antiquated defamation law at the heart of the case. He tweeted: “We want to abolish Paragraph 103. Special provisions for insulting foreign heads of state have fallen behind the times.”
The law should be repealed as antiquated but nevertheless it is useful it seams to Ms. Merkel and her political party. Hypocrites.
A greater strength would have been to respect that this poet has civil rights and let the chips fall where they may. Unfortunately the Merkel government has gone down the path of least resistance for which it is now committed. Unfortunately, the best outcome would be for Jan Böhmermann to undergo his “investigation”, pass through some kangaroo court of Merkel’s creation, and ultimately forced to go to the European Court of Human Rights to restore him to where he was a month ago. The ECHR will declare the German statute invalid, and the German government can absolve themselves of their responsibility by then telling Erdoğan they did everything possible to respect and entreat him.
Maybe in her next state visit to Turkey, Erdoğan will award her the Imtiyaz Medal.
By Darren Smith
Source: Deutsche Welle