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Wow, Erdogan Is Still Really Angry About German Satire

After calling in Germany's ambassador over a satirical video, Turkey is now demanding Berlin press charges

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 3.52.42 PM

There’s a lot for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be worried about these days. His country is trying to figure out what to do with the thousands of migrants it will be taking back from Europe, thwart terrorist attacks in major tourist hubs like Istanbul and Ankara, and stem the flow of refugees from Syria.

It’s bad timing for all of that, really, because there’s yet another, much bigger issue that Erdogan keeps focusing his attention on: comedians who broadcast satirical videos on German television.

On Monday, Turkey formally requested that Germany prosecute satirist Jan Boehmermann, who performed a March 31 poem mocking Erdogan’s criticism of the song “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan.” The song served as the soundtrack for a video montage that aired on German broadcaster NDR of many of the Turkish president’s most embarrassing public moments.

In the original video, the narrator sings “press freedom gives him a swollen neck, that’s why he needs all those scarves,” as eight clips of Erdogan with scarves wrapped around his neck fill the screen. It added: “Be nice to him since he’s holding all the cards” and showed a clip of German Chancellor Angela Merkel shaking Erdogan’s hand.

For what it’s worth, this all sounds much better when it’s rhyming in German. But Erdogan, who is also trying to sue a doctor for an Internet meme comparing the president to the fictional creature Gollum, was not at all amused. As Foreign Policy reported last week, Turkey summoned the German ambassador over the initial video. As for Boehmermann’s poem, Merkel called it “deliberately offensive.” 

In his performance, Boehmermann acknowledged that while the earlier video was protected under German free speech laws, the new one that purposely mocked the foreign leader would not be. Under German law, “whosoever insults a foreign head of state … shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine.”

German TV network ZDF has taken down Boehmermann’s video, but the poem already did what it was intended to do: irk Erdogan. And Erdogan doesn’t rest until he wins.

German prosecutors have now launched a preliminary inquiry into Boehmermann’s work.

As the song went in the first video, “When a journalist writes a piece that Erdogan doesn’t like, he quickly ends up in jail. Newspaper offices closed down, he doesn’t think twice.”

It appears the inquiry into Boehmermann could be just the latest in Erdogan’s attempted export of his crackdown on freedom of press.

When the Turkish leader visited Washington last month, a speech he gave at the Brookings Institution think-tank was nearly canceled after his personal security jostled journalists and activists, throwing one woman to the ground and forcing a Turkish journalist to leave the event. One Turkish guard even chased a cameraman chased down the street.

At one point, an American police officer intervened and told Erdogan’s men to back off. “You’re part of the problem,” the police officer yelled. “You guys need to control yourselves and let these people protest.”

Correction, April 11, 2016: An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported that Jan Boehmermann created the original video “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan.” Instead, Boehmermann performed a poem mocking Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s response to the video. That poem is the reason the Turkish government has asked Germany to prosecute Boehmermann. 

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