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German government authorises prosecution of comic for insulting Erdogan

Merkel says probe into Jan Boehmermann's 'Defamatory Poem' about Turkish president can go ahead, but law allowing case will be abolished
Jan Boehmermann admitted he was flouting Germany's legal limits on free speech (AFP)

Chancellor Angela Merkel has authorised a Turkish demand for a German TV comedian to be prosecuted over a crude satirical poem about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a bitter row over free speech.

"The government will give its authorisation in the case at hand," Merkel said, adding that it was up to the courts to decide on Jan Boehmermann's guilt or innocence.

However, Merkel also announced that Germany would by 2018 scrap the rarely enforced section 103 of the criminal code - insulting organs or representatives of foreign states - under which Boehmermann has been accused.

Under 103, the government has to authorise prosecutors to pursue a case against the comedian.

"There were different opinions between the coalition partners," Merkel said. "The outcome is that the German government will give the authorisation in the current case."

Merkel stressed that it "means neither a prejudgment of the person affected nor a decision about the limits of freedom of art, the press and opinion".

German prosecutors last week opened a preliminary probe against comedian Boehmermann, who accused Erdogan of having sex with goats and sheep while gleefully admitting he was flouting Germany's legal limits on free speech.

The so-called "Defamatory Poem" also audaciously labelled the Turkish president a paedophile.

The comedian was reacting to Ankara's decision to summon Germany's ambassador in protest last month over a previous satirical song broadcast on German TV which lampooned Erdogan in far tamer language.

Boehmermann read the poem on ZDF television two weeks ago to illustrate what he said wouldn't be allowed in Germany. 

ZDF withdrew the passage from its archives but argues that it didn't break the law. 

Merkel - who had previously labelled the poem "deliberately insulting" - had pledged Turkey's request would be "very carefully" examined, even as she underlined the German constitution's guarantees of "freedom of expression, academia and of course the arts".