Do you recall the story of German comedian Jan Boehmermann? (Pictured below) Last year he got in a bit of trouble with the authorities when he went on a television program and read a poem he’d written about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It was, to put it mildly… not terribly flattering. In fact, it was downright crude. But while it might have been considered fairly tame were he appearing in the United States on The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live, he soon found himself being brought up on charges. The Turkish leader was incensed over the portrayal and demanded “justice” under a law in Germany which makes it illegal to insult foreign leaders and dignitaries (Schmähkritik). Under the provisions of that law, Angela Merkel was forced to grant Erdogan’s request and allow an investigation to move forward.
The ironic aspect of the case was that Boehmermann had written the piece to highlight questions of free speech.
The case was eventually dropped for “insufficient evidence” last October, but it highlights the fact that free speech isn’t exactly free in Germany. This month that may be about to change. It turns out that the antiquated law is being repealed. (CBS News)
Germany’s government says it’s getting out of the business of defending the honor of foreign leaders.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday said Germany was abolishing a law requiring the government’s permission to allow the prosecution of anyone deemed to have insulted a foreign head of state, saying it was “outdated and unnecessary.”
Insulted foreign leaders can still pursue their own libel and defamation cases.
That’s a positive step, but it also serves as a reminder that Americans do live in a truly remarkable society. We have allies who we consider friendly, western, progressive or what have you, but America remains unique in the First Amendment freedoms it provides to its citizens. In England a man was arrested in 2015 for the crime of tweeting the hashtag #DISGRACE next to a photo of Muslims praying at the playing field of the Liverpool Football Club. In France, shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, somewhere between 50 and 70 people were arrested for “hate speech” when they commented on terrorism. And as we’ve discussed here before, in the Netherlands, a member of Parliament, Geert Wilders, was actually convicted in court (though not imprisoned) for the crime of chanting “Fewer” at a political rally when referring to immigrants.
Perhaps things are improving in Germany, but it’s still a far cry from the freedom you enjoy if you are an American citizen. If nothing else, take this as a positive note to start off your day and a reason to appreciate what you have. It is indeed a precious gift.