Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan really isn’t my favourite world leader. Since taking office in 2014, he has closed down opposition newspapers, named Nazi Germany as an example of “effective governance”, and used taxpayers’ money to build a 1,000-room palace for himself. He’s also known to have incredibly thin skin.
Erdogan’s insecurities were revealed to the world earlier this month, when he and his cronies decided to take legal action against German comedian Jan Boehmermann for allegedly insulting “His Royal Highness” on TV. The satirical poem contained vulgar sexual remarks mixed with references to the Erdogan regime’s alleged human rights violations.
Oddly enough, Boehmermann’s 90-second performance may land him in jail in his own country, if Erdogan’s ministers decide to press charges and he is convicted. Section 103 of the German Criminal Code stipulates that anyone who insults a foreign head of state may receive a three-year prison term.
Erdogan says Boehmermann’s remarks constitute defamation, and not standing up for himself would be an “insult” to his supporters. Erdogan has filed more than 1,800 criminal cases against Turkish citizens, journalists, and politicians under the same “principle”.
While there are limits to the freedom of expression, for example, libel and hate speech, Boehmermann’s act, despite being a little unsavoury, does not fall into either of these two categories. It was clear from the beginning that the content of his poem was not meant to be taken seriously. He also did not incite violence against the leader. What’s more, the poem contains some legitimate criticism of the Erdogan regime; Boehmermann briefly mentions the suppression of Kurds and other minorities in Turkey, which makes the work a bit more reasonable than what Erdogan is claiming.
Although Boehmermann’s actions may have violated German law, it is not in the interest of the German government nor the public to see him jailed. For one, the law has been very vaguely defined; what constitutes an “insult” is unclear.
Prosecuting Boehmermann would also set a bad precedent, as journalists may also fall into this legal trap if they report negative news about other foreign leaders. While the issue may be a little embarrassing to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been trying to improve ties with Turkey, putting Boehmermann on trial would only replace foreign tensions with domestic ones.
Erdogan is a terrible leader and Boehmermann has managed to draw attention to this fact. While it’s true that the content of the poem wasn’t too sophisticated, what matters is Boehmermann’s intentions, and what he has actually managed to achieve. He’s managed to encourage discussion regarding Erdogan’s leadership style and governance, and that’s what’s important.
If school playground insults are enough to make Erdogan this nervous, one should question how strong and secure his regime really is. Let’s just hope that the Supreme Master of the Greater Turkish Reich doesn’t resort to extreme measures to maintain his power.