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Germany to abolish law on insulting foreign heads of states

Insulted foreign leaders can still pursue their own libel and defamation cases

world Updated: Feb 07, 2017 17:12 IST
AFP, Berlin
German justice minister said the law was “outdated and unnecessary”(Reuters File)

The German government voted Wednesday to scrap a lese majeste law that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had sought to employ against a popular German television satirist.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet decided to abolish by January 1, 2018 the rarely enforced section of the criminal code that prohibits insulting organs or representatives of foreign states.

“The idea of ‘lese majeste’ dates back to a long-gone era, it no longer belongs in our criminal law,” said Justice Minister Heiko Maas. “The regulation is obsolete and unnecessary.”

Maas said heads of state and government would still be able to defend themselves against slander and defamation “but no more or less so than any other person.”

Erdogan had launched a criminal complaint under the law — which carries up to three years’ jail — against German TV comic Jan Boehmermann, who had insulted him in a so-called “defamatory poem”.

The row badly soured Berlin-Ankara relations at a time when Turkey was vital to European Union plans to stop the mass flow of migrants from the Middle East and Africa into the bloc, especially to Germany.

In the poem, broadcast in March last year, Boehmermann had accused Erdogan of bestiality and watching child porn, while gleefully admitting that he was flouting legal limits to free speech as a deliberate provocation.

Merkel then authorised criminal proceedings against Boehmermann, in a decision that appalled rights groups. At the same time she said the article should be removed from Germany’s legal code, a move that still requires parliamentary approval.

Prosecutors had launched an investigation against Boehmermann but dropped the case last October.

First Published: Jan 26, 2017 21:25 IST