Germany Issues Travel – and Behavior – Advisory About Turkey

After uproar over German poet's satiric broadcast about President Erdogan, Chancellor Merkel appears to make effort to salvage refugee accord and bilateral ties.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, in Lima on February 2, 2016 and German TV comedian Jan Böhmermann on February 22, 2012 in Berlin.
AFP

Germany has issued an unusual travel advisory, cautioning citizens visiting Turkey to be wary about criticizing the local regime.

The warning was issued Monday in light of the tension between the two countries, which erupted after the recent broadcast on television in Germany of a poem by a local poet mocking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The foreign ministry issued this advisory to Germans: “It is highly recommended to avoid making political statements against the Turkish state.” Tourists in Turkey were also warned not to express public support for terror groups.

Three weeks ago, German comedian Jan Böhmermann recited a poem about Erdogan on his nightly talk show, aired on the ZDF public broadcasting channel. In the poem, he as much as declared that the president smells, has relations with animals, is deviant, has participated in gang rape, and is a pig and an idiot. The comedian also accused the Turkish leader of oppressing minorities in his country.

Last Friday the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to Erdogan’s demand to pursue a criminal investigation against Böhmermann, based on a rather outdated clause in the German constitution that prohibits offending representatives of a foreign country.

Böhmermann also took a month’s leave from his program, “So that the public and the Internet can go back to dealing with the important things in life, like the refugee crisis, cat videos and the love life of Sophia Thomalla [a German TV actress].”

On his Facebook page he told his fans that he was leaving the country for now, “to learn about freedom of expression and artistic creativity on a tour of North Korea.”

For its part, ZDF declared its support for the comedian, but removed the clip from its website and its YouTube channel.

At a press conference over the weekend, Chancellor Merkel said: “In a constitutional democracy, the decision on the rights of the individual to a free press and freedom of expression is not a matter for the government but for the prosecution and the courts.” She called the poem "deliberately offensive," and expressed “concern” over the persecution of journalists in Turkey and restrictions on the freedom to protest there, adding that diplomatic relations between the two countries were close.

Merkel’s move to allow an investigation of Böhmermann won the support of her party, the Christian Democratic Union, with faction chairman Volker Kauder saying, “Satire can deal with everything, but not everything is classified as satire. The courts will determine where the line is drawn. The government did the right thing.”

However, Merkel was criticized by her coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir saying, “We think it was not necessary to allow him to be prosecuted. Freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and freedom of artistic creativity are among the most important things in our constitution and we must defend them.”

The party's faction chairman, Thomas Opperman, added that he “thinks the decision was erroneous. Prosecuting a satirist because of this law doesn’t square with being a modern democracy.”

What allowed Erdogan to demand criminal proceedings is Section 103 of the Penal Code, which states that in Germany one can be prosecuted for insulting an agency or representatives of a foreign country. For this to happen, the offended party must file a complaint, and the government must approve the process. The offense carries a punishment of up to five years’ imprisonment.

Following this incident there have been demands in the German parliament to void this clause. Merkel announced that she would examine doing away with it by 2018.

She is afraid to alienate Erdogan because she needs him to implement the refugee agreement signed last month. Under the accord, refugees who transit Turkey to reach Greece illegally will be deported back to Turkey. In return, the European Union will donate billions of euros to Ankara to help deal with the refugees, and will make it easier for Turkish citizens to get entrance visas to the EU.