Decision to prosecute satirist in Germany worrying, OSCE media freedom representative says, reiterating call to decriminalize defamation
VIENNA, 15 April 2016 – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović today expressed concern about the decision in Germany to prosecute a satirist who derided the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“This case shows that legal provisions, albeit dormant for long periods of time, may be revived and could endanger free expression in any democratic society,” Mijatović said.
Today it was announced that German authorities will launch a criminal investigation into satirist Jan Böhmermann under Article 103 of the Criminal Code, following a request by the President of Turkey who claimed he was insulted by a poem broadcast on 31 March by the German television station ZDF.
The Representative noted today’s statement by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel that said that the article of the Criminal Code may be abolished by 2018, and Mijatović welcomed the open, transparent and inclusive debate on free expression in Germany relating to the specific case.
“This debate shows the need, and also provides an opportunity, to review the current criminal law in Germany, which criminalizes insult and defamation and comprises a provision imposing fines and imprisonment for insult of a foreign head of state,” Mijatović said.
The Representative said that the outcome of this case could have an immense effect on freedom of expression, including artistic freedom, in Germany and beyond.
Mijatović reiterated her position on the issue in her letter to German Minister of Foreign Affairs and OSCE Chairman-in-Office Frank-Walter Steinmeier. In the letter Mijatović stressed that political speech, views on religion, opinions and expressions which are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also those that may offend, shock or disturb are covered by the freedom of speech and these forms have been upheld by numerous decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.
“I reiterate my call to all OSCE participating States to decriminalize defamation and insult,” Mijatović said. “Legal reforms, guaranteeing that only reasonable damages can be awarded by civil courts, must be initiated to satisfy grievances of people who think their reputations have been damaged.”
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media observes media developments in all 57 OSCE participating States. She provides early warning on violations of freedom of expression and media freedom and promotes full compliance with OSCE media freedom commitments. Learn more at www.osce.org/fom, Twitter:@OSCE_RFoM and on www.facebook.com/osce.rfom.