Offense of the Month: May 2016
Have you heard the one about the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan? No, that’s not an insult; that’s his name. But just about anything else said of him can land you in hot water in Turkey, where it’s a crime to insult the Turkish nation or government institutions. Erdogan has used the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish penal code more than 1,800 times to prosecute critics for insulting him. Sometimes not even critics — he went after a TV news network for running a headline “‘Dictator’ under Investigation” about name calling by an opposition leader (the news program put the word “dictator” in quotation marks to indicate it was simply reporting a statement made by somebody else). Made no never mind to Erdogan.
In early May he sought a preliminary injunction in Germany against the release of an open letter from the CEO of Axel Springer, one of the country’s leading media firms. The letter, written by Mathias Döpfner, supported the right of a comedian to ridicule Erdogan. The comic, Jan Böhmermann, mocked Erdogan in a long, sexually crude poem. Döpfner’s letter repeated some of Böhermann’s language. Erdogan’s lawyers pointed to an archaic provision of German law, paragraph 103 of its penal code, prohibiting insults to foreign leaders, a remnant of the old crime of lèse-majesté, once widespread, that counted as treason offending the dignity of the ruler. Continue reading