In a country as open as Germany, you would expect that citizens have relative freedom of speech compared to many other nations in the world. But around this time last year, a flaw in the system arose: cue lese majeste.
Added fuel to an already tense situation
German comedian Jan Boehmermann (pretty explicitly) insulted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Ergodan. His comments made allusions to bestiality, child sex abuse and ethnic discrimination in relation to President Ergodan.
The Turkish leader, offended by the remarks, then filed a complaint with German prosecutors on the basis of the German law that defends the honor of foreign leaders, known as lese majeste.
The law states: “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.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel then controversially granted Turkey’s request to allow prosecutors to investigate Boehmermann, but the case was later dropped citing insufficient evidence that any crime was committed.
Merkel was widely criticized by many who felt the decision to pursue the case further was an attack on freedom of speech.
At the time, relations between Germany and Turkey were already tense due to the massive flow of migrants from the Middle East through Turkey. Germany had recently come to an agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants into the EU. The investigation only served to create greater tension.
Fast-forward one year
Nearly one year later, Germany has announced they will abolish the lese majeste law. When this comes into place, foreign heads of state will not be able to ask the German government to pursue any prosecution against anyone who offended them under German law.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the law was “outdated and unnecessary”. He continued: “The idea of the lese majesty arose in an era long gone by. It no longer belongs in our criminal law.”
It’s still up to the Bundestag Lower House of Parliament if the law will officially be abolished. If this goes through, international heads of state will still be able to pursue personal libel and defamation cases, as can any ordinary citizen.
Is the timing of this announcement coincidental?
The decision to abolish the law – which will go into effect as of January 1, 2018 – comes just days after Donald Trump was inaugurated as the US President. It’s quite obvious Mr. Trump isn’t a big fan of personal criticism – as shown by his various “Twitter wars”. Could this announcement be on purpose, or just a coincidence?