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The Spectator took on Chancellor Merkel and President Erdogan – and won

4 October 2016

4:37 PM

4 October 2016

4:37 PM

Hurray!  It is not often one gets good news, but here is some.  Jan Boehmermann, the German comedian who read out a rude poem about Sultan Erdogan on German TV, has had the prosecution against him dropped.  In the last couple of hours prosecutors in Mainz said that they did not have ‘sufficient evidence’ against him.

Well I say ‘Ha’ to that, for it is purest face-saving.  The evidence was broadcast out on German television in March for any and all to see.  President Erdogan complained and with the approval of Chancellor Merkel an ancient and outdated German law (about not insulting foreign rulers) was dusted off and Jan Boehmermann faced years in prison.  What the prosecutors have in fact realised – and certain German politicians perhaps as well – is that the prosecution was politically impossible.  Not least – and I say this with great pride – because the Chancellor in Germany cannot allow the prosecution of a person for a ‘crime’ which has also been committed by the British Foreign Secretary.  President Erdogan, too, may find it hard to pretend that a German comedian must go to prison while only last week he shook the hand of a person who had committed precisely the same ‘offence’.


I must confess to an occasionally wounded readership that the reason why Boris Johnson was awarded the Spectator’s President Erdogan Offensive Poetry Competition in super-quick, ahead-of-deadline time for a rather poor rhyme was precisely in order to make this point.  Many of you wrote spectacularly good and rude poems about the Turkish leader, nearly all of which deserved the prize ahead of Boris.  But only one poem came from a man likely to be high up in the British government and so able to embarrass the German Chancellor into seeing that free speech is not a prosecutable crime.

Anyhow – I am delighted for Mr Boehmermann who I hope can now try to return to normal life.  I am delighted that Germany has realised the error of its ways.  Delighted that President Erdogan might have learned that even the nastiest despot must endure the occasional spanking.  And delighted that Boris Johnson stood up so gamely with The Spectator to help win a fight which remains one of the most important fights of our time: the right of free people to say what we think.

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