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Germany Is Scrapping Law That Bans Insulting Foreign Leaders

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet says it is scrapping the controversial law against insulting foreign heads of state.
Markus Schreiber
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet says it is scrapping the controversial law against insulting foreign heads of state.

Germany's Cabinet says it is scrapping a controversial and little-used law that makes it a criminal offense to insult foreign heads of state, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

Justice Minister Heiko Mass said the law is "obsolete and unnecessary," Deutsche Welle reported. He said the concept "dates back to a long-gone era, it no longer belongs in our criminal law."

Mass added that foreign heads of state could still pursue libel and defamation cases "but no more or less so than any other person," according to the broadcaster.

Last year, the law was invoked in a controversial case against comedian Jan Boehmermann because he read an obscene poem on television criticizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as The Two-Way reported:

"The controversy actually began because of a completely different video clip mocking Erdogan. That music video, released on the German comedy program Extra3, prompted Turkey to summon the German ambassador.

"In the wake of the first controversy, Boehmermann appeared on German television and read his crude poem, which 'said Erdogan kicks Kurds, smacks Christians, all while watching child pornography,' as we have reported. There were also references to bestiality.

"At the time, Boehmermann said that his poem was meant to be an example of insults that wouldn't be allowed in Germany, rather than to represent his own personal opinion about Erdogan."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would allow the investigation against Boehmermann to move forward in April, after a formal request from Turkey. The investigation was dropped in October for lack of evidence.

Merkel faced widespread criticism from people who saw the case as an attack on freedom of speech. As we reported, it happened shortly after Germany struck a deal with Turkey aimed at stemming the flow of migrants into the E.U. Some critics argued that the timing had an impact on Merkel's decision to pursue the case back in April.

And even as Merkel allowed the investigation to proceed, she told reporters that she planned to "draft a proposal to replace the current law," as Deutsche Welle reported at the time.

This is what the law in the German Criminal Code actually said:

"Whosoever insults a foreign head of state, or, with respect to his position, a member of a foreign government who is in Germany in his official capacity, or a head of a foreign diplomatic mission who is accredited in the Federal territory shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine, in case of a slanderous insult to imprisonment from three months to five years."

Erdogan is still engaged in a civil law dispute against Boehmermann, Reuters reported. "A district court in Hamburg will decide on Erdogan's action for an injunction on Feb. 10."

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.