Late last month, the German comedian Jan Böhmermann read a poem making fun of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on TV. In the segment, broadcast on the German state station ZDF, “Böhmermann sat in front of a Turkish flag beneath a small, framed portrait of Erdoğan, reading out a poem that accused the Turkish president of, among other things, ‘repressing minorities, kicking Kurds and slapping Christians,’” reports The Guardian.
The segment was intended as a response to Erdogan’s authoritarian media-repression tendencies — Turkey’s reputation on the media-freedom front has been nose-diving in recent years. During the bit, another comedian played a media lawyer warning Böhmermann that it was exactly the sort of thing the Erdogan regime would consider prosecutable.
If you’re thinking to yourself, There’s no way Erdogan would actually take that bait and try to get someone in Germany punished for making fun of him, you may have underestimated just how sensitive the Turkish president can be.
Because that’s exactly what happened. After the segment aired, Ankara reached out to German prime minister Angela Merkel, pointing at an obscure, almost-never-used section of the German legal code that takes a rather, well, German approach to humor at the expense of representatives of foreign states. German law left Merkel with the final decision of whether to refer the case to a prosecutor, and she has decided to go ahead and do so — perhaps, The Guardian notes, because “the recently agreed refugee deal between Turkey and the EU has made the chancellor reliant on the whims of Turkey’s strongman leader.”
Merkel is facing a lot of heat for her decision and said she’s hoping to get rid of the law in the next two years. In the meantime, the world will watch the strange spectacle of a German citizen residing in Germany being investigated for making fun of a Turkish despot. It seems unlikely Böhmermann will do any comedic riffing on his situation in the meantime.