German authorities are prosecuting satirist Jan Böhmermann for reading aloud on television a profane poem in which he called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an "the man who beats girls", and added that he loved to "fuck goats and suppress minorities, kick Kurds, hit Christians, and watch child pornography." Böhmermann's poem was provoked by the Turkish government's protest of a song critical of Erdo?an that had aired two weeks earlier on the German political satire TV show extra 3. In total contravention of free speech, Germany outlaws "abusive criticism" (Schmähkritik) of a foreign state leader. Böhmermann's poem was deliberately meant to test the line between legal free speech and illegal "abusive criticism."
The Turkish government pressed for Böhmermann to be prosecuted and, to her shame, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has allowed the court proceedings to go forward.
Now the New York Times is reporting that Erdo?an is trying to use the same law to silence another prominent figure, Mathias Döpfner, the chief executive of the media firm Axel Springer, who has published an open letter in defense of Böhmermann. The Times reports:
Mr. Döpfner wrote an open letter to Mr. Böhmermann on April 10 that said he was willing to defend the comedian's every word in the name of Germany's tradition of "freedom of expression, art and satire."
That public show of support for one of Mr. Erdogan's critics further angered the Turkish leader, who this week won a preliminary injunction against the filmmaker Uwe Boll, for criticizing Mr. Erdogan in a video posted online.
Ralf Höcker, a lawyer representing Mr. Erdogan in Germany, said he had a mandate to seek an injunction against anyone who publicly insults the Turkish president, to try to stop what he described as an "avalanche" of scornful abuse.
"Everyone thinks they are allowed to insult Mr. Erdogan in any way that they want because they do not find him very sympathetic," Mr. Höcker said. "But this is not about sympathy, it is about human dignity, namely to protect it." …
"Our intention is to stop this unbridled online lynch mob," Mr. Höcker said. "Everyone has lost all restraint and believes they can do as they please. We intend to stop this."
Give it a try, Herr Höcker.
Meanwhile, the good news is that "the Cologne state court upheld Mr. Döpfner's right to freedom of expression, saying his comments were 'a contribution to building public opinion in a controversial debate.'"
Of course Erdo?an is vigorously seeking to shut up critics at home. As the Times reported in March:
Since August 2014, 1,845 criminal cases have been opened against Turks for insulting their president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a crime that carries a penalty of up to four years in prison. Among the offenders are journalists, authors, politicians, a famous soccer star, even schoolchildren.