Is it illegal to insult Turkish President Erdogan even in Germany?

by omouggos

Mr. Böhmermann seems to be in trouble for mocking President Erdoğan. (image from

It is quite well known that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey does not enjoy being insulted. In fact it is illegal to insult the President in Turkey pursuant with Article 299 of the Turkish penal code.[1] As of March there were 1845 pending court cases for insulting Erdoğan,[2] with the accused including politicians, journalists, common folk and teenagers.

It may seem odd, even egregious, that in an ostensible parliamentary republic such as Turkey, that a citizen is not allowed to ‘insult’ their president, since if it is illegal to insult or mock public officials, then how long will it be before any type of valid criticism is also deemed illegal. But in reality Erdoğan is more a sultan than a president, so of course how dare anyone mock him and expect to get away with it.

To those who have been following Erdoğan and his doings it is not overly surprising that he has the desire and authority to legally punish his insulters in Turkey. What is surprising is that it now appears insulting Erdoğan outside of Turkey may also be impermissible. I guess the hand of the sultan is long indeed.

In Germany there have been two relevant cases. The first one occurred on March 17 when an anti-Erdoğan song, “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan” was aired on the German NDR station.[3] The response of Turkey was to summon the German ambassador and “demand that the broadcast is removed from the air.[4]

Then on March 31, the German comedian and ZDF TV presenter Jan Böhmermann recited an anti-Erdoğan poem on his show Neo Magazin Royale.[5] The poem was rather scurrilous and harsh towards the sultan, saying that he enjoyed child pornography and sex with animals, and that he “represses minorities, kicks the Kurds and beats the Christians.

For such vulgar satire, Böhmermann is being investigated by German prosecutors for “insulting foreign state representatives and institutions,” after 20 people had filed complaints against him. If convicted Böhmermann could face up to five years in prison for his poetry recital.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while paying lip service to freedom of speech condemned Böhmermann’s attempt at political satire, saying “Humor is part of freedom of expression and the press but it is not without limits” and that the poem was “unacceptable” and “insulting.”[6]

A differing viewpoint came from German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier who, in relation to the Turkish reaction to the “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan” song, said “I think we can expect from such a partner nation [of the EU] that it shares our common European values.” In other words Turkey is over reacting to what is acceptable, by European standards, freedom of speech.

But Steinmeier’s criticisms seem a bit naive. Does anyone really believe that Erdoğan’s Turkey shares the same ‘European values’, whatever those value may be, with the nations of Western Europe? It should be clear to anyone that Erdoğan plays by his own set of dictatorial and Islamist rules, which are quite different from the traditional values of Europe.

Unfortunately most in Europe are unable to comprehend that Erdoğan does not share their values. They seem to blindly believe that Turkey will be influenced for the better by Europe when it appears the opposite is occurring, that Europe is being influenced for the worse by Turkey.

It is also possible that European leaders may be cognizant of this cultural mismatch between Europe and Turkey, but they still appease Erdoğan’s sensibilities because they actually do not care about European values and instead are guided by, possibly nefarious, ulterior motives. For whatever reason, Europe, particularly Germany, seems to be kowtowing to Erdoğan in a manner that is almost unbelievable.

It is possible that Böhmermann will not be convicted of any crime and as such the incident could be perceived as much ado about nothing. Also one could argue that his poem was indeed offensive and vulgar, even slanderous. However, the fact that he is being investigated over the matter is troubling enough and regardless of the vulgarity involved, is a leader like Erdoğan beyond satirization?

We should remember that in a free society, the mocking of public officials, however childish it often becomes, serves an important function. It helps to make clear that they are not omnipotent nor omniscient deities who lord over us at their own will. It also provides a powerful means of criticizing our leaders and letting them know that their behavior is often absurd. Finally the very fact that you can legally mock or insult a political leader indicates that that leader is not a tyrant, as they do not have the legal power to punishment whenever they feel slighted.

With this in mind, it is increasingly clear that Erdoğan is a tyrannical leader, exercising his tyrannical will over Turkey. But it is now becoming apparent that he is succeeding in implementing his will outside of his domain, in countries such as Germany, and the leaders of those countries seem to be doing little to oppose it.

O Mouggos




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