Global Freedom of Expression

The Case of Satirist Jan Böhmermann

On Appeal Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Audio / Visual Broadcasting
  • Date of Decision
    May 17, 2016
  • Outcome
    Injunction or Order Granted
  • Region & Country
    Germany, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Administrative Law, Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Defamation / Reputation, Artistic Expression
  • Tags
    Satire/Parody, Insult, Political expression, Public Officials, Content-Based Restriction

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Regional Superior State Court in Hamburg granted a partial injunction preventing satirist and comedian Jan Bohermann from publicly repeating large parts of a poem he had broadcast about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. Global FoE notes that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding legal matters will be updated as an official source becomes available.

 

 


Facts

On 31 March 2016, satirist and comedian Jan Böhmermann included on his TV show the reading of a poem about President Erdoğan of Turkey which contained extremely crude language. [2] Among other things, the poem implied that Erdoğan engaged in intimate relations with goats and sheep and watched child pornography while repressing the Kurdish people. [1]

President Erdoğan responded by lodging a complaint against Böhmermann for insult under Paragraph 103 of Germany’s penal code [3]. This rarely used provision prohibits insulting foreign heads of state but requires that the government give consent to the prosecution of such cases. [2]

The Turkish president received Chancellor Angela Merkel’s permission for proceedings to go ahead. She stated that the German government would permit Erdoğan’s action to proceed under the “insult” paragraph, but also that the relevant law, which dates back to 1871, would be repealed. [2]

Thus President Erdoğan in addition to seeking the injunction in Hamburg also filed a separate and more serious criminal complaint alleging ‘insult’ by Böhmermann. [3] Prosecutors are yet to decide whether they will file charges. [1]

[1] DW, Court grants Erdogan injunction against comedian Jan Böhmermann, (May 17, 2016), http://www.dw.com/en/court-grants-erdogan-injunction-against-comedian-jan-b%C3%B6hmermann/a-19264350

[2] New York Times, German Comic to Fight Ruling on Poem Insulting Turkish Leader, (May 18, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/19/world/europe/german-comic-bohmermann-poem-turkey-erdogan.html?_r=0

[3] DW, German president: Abolishing law at heart of Böhmermann case ‘a little rash’, (Apr. 22, 2016), http://www.dw.com/en/german-president-abolishing-law-at-heart-of-b%C3%B6hmermann-case-a-little-rash/a-19207150


Decision Overview

The Court in Hamburg held that its task was to balance Böhmermann’s artistic freedom and his right to freedom of expression on the one hand, and Erdoğan’s individual rights on the other. The Court found that Böhmermann’s poem, in certain parts crossed the acceptable boundary between satire and “pure abuse.”[1], [5]

The Court held that, “[t]hrough the poem’s reference to racist prejudice and religious slander as well as sexual habits the verses in question go beyond what the petitioner can be expected to tolerate”. The Court held that these verses were “slanderous and defamatory”and that Erdoğan should not have to tolerate repetition of the poem”in view of its abusive and libelous content.” [1], [5] The Court held that while the poem as a whole was satire, this did not permit “the wholesale disregard of the rights of the complainant”.[4]

Only six lines of the poem, which included reference to Turkey’s treatment of minorities and freedom of speech, were allowed to continue to be recited, as the Court considered them to be within the bounds of what is legally admissible. [1],[6]

[1] DW, Court grants Erdogan injunction against comedian Jan Böhmermann, (May 17, 2016), http://www.dw.com/en/court-grants-erdogan-injunction-against-comedian-jan-b%C3%B6hmermann/a-19264350

[4] The Finanacial Times, Hamburg court bans part of Erdogan poem, (May 18, 2016), http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/061b2546-1cd8-11e6-b286-cddde55ca122.html#axzz4BMxcSroi

[5] DW, Comedian Böhmermann to appeal against court injunction on Erdogan poem, (May 18, 2016), http://www.dw.com/en/comedian-b%C3%B6hmermann-to-appeal-against-court-injunction-on-erdogan-poem/a-19266537

[6] The Independent, Erdogan poem: Court bans German comedian Jan Böhmermann from repeating controversial verses, (May 18, 2016), http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/erdogan-poem-court-bans-german-comedian-jan-boehmermann-from-repeating-sexual-verses-a7035896.html


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

The ruling limits the right to criticize the president of a foreign country, in apparent contravention of established jurisprudence from the European Court of Human Rights. Böhmermann intends to appeal the case to the Federal Constitutional Court. He argues that the ruling violates artistic freedom by implying that it is divisible and that the judges failed to take into account that he had framed his poem in explicitly satirical terms, even interspersing his reading of it with several remarks noting that the poem was an example of what would be impermissible expression.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Ger., Penal Code, para. 103

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

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