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Germany to remove law punishing insult to foreign presidents

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After a dispute with Turkey over an alleged insult to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Germany has moved to cancel legislation that calls for punishment for insulting foreign leaders effective Jan. 1, 2018.

The decision was approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, after which Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement that the term “insulting the majesty” dates back centuries and is not compatible with Germany’s current penal code. The minister added that insulting presidents will be subject to as much punishment as insulting ordinary citizens is.

In spring of 2016, the Turkish government had officially asked German authorities to put a famous TV comedian on trial on charges of “insulting” Turkish President Erdoğan in a satirical poem he read during a show.

Sources from the German federal government had reportedly said that the Turkish government issued a diplomatic note, asking the German Foreign Ministry to put Jan Boehmermann, a comedian and a presenter on Germany’s public broadcaster ZDF, on trial on charges of “insulting a representative of a foreign state.”

During his weekly show “Neo Magazin Royal,” Böhmermann read a poem which made crude sexual jokes about Turkey’s president.

A Mainz prosecutor had said the office had received some 20 complaints from “private individuals” about Böhmermann’s poem, automatically triggering the opening of preliminary proceedings.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had criticized Böhmermann’s satirical poem, and Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the chancellor and then-Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu agreed in a phone call that the text of the poem was “deliberately offensive.”

Merkel’s criticism came at a time when she was accused of turning a blind eye to rights violations in Turkey because Germany needed Turkey’s assistance in halting the flow of refugees to Europe.

The controversy over Böhmermann’s poem followed another controversy over a satirical German song, “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan,” aired on March 17 on NDR, another public TV station.

The Turkish government had summoned the German ambassador to Ankara and asked that the video of the song be deleted from NDR’s website and social media channels.

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