Erdogan Loses Axel Springer CEO Lawsuit Over Bawdy German Poem

  • Turkish president sued after Doepfner supported comedian
  • Dispute started with lewd TV joke designed to test libel law

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lost a bid to have a German court silence Axel Springer SE Chief Executive Officer Mathias Doepfner in a spat over a comedian’s insults on German television that has left the leaders of two countries red faced.

Erdogan was attempting to get a preliminary injunction against Doepfner, who expressed support for the comedian’s bawdy poem. A Cologne court on Tuesday threw out the request, citing the media executive’s right to free speech.

“In the conflict between freedom of speech and personal rights of the plaintiff, Doepfner’s statement is allowed because it’s a contribution to a public discourse in a controversial debate,” the court said in an e-mailed statement.

The dispute, which began with a ditty directed at Erdogan on German television, exposes the pitfalls in the country’s dependence on Turkey to help restrict Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

The comedian, Jan Boehmermann, recited a poem about Erdogan that plumbed the depths of bawdiness in a routine that was designed to test a law that gives foreign heads of state the right to ask prosecutors to take action over libelous comments. The limerick made outlandish references to a host of illicit practices.

The dispute has led to widespread criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who allowed prosecutors to investigate Boehmermann under a criminal law, which has roots dating back to 19th century imperial Germany.

Appeal expected

Doepfner had published an open letter in Axel Springer’s Die Welt newspaper supporting Boehmermann and daring Erdogan to sue.

“Doepfner’s open letter was meant to defend freedom of art and satire,” Axel Springer spokeswoman Edda Fels said by telephone before the ruling.

Erdogan’s media lawyer Ralf Hoecker had said earlier Tuesday that he will probably tell his client to appeal the ruling.

“There are countless people who insulted Mr. Erdogan after Boehmermann’s poem because they believe it’s OK and of course it’s not,” Hoecker said by phone from Cologne. “We are trying to stop these mass insults.”

Erdogan sued Doepfner under general German civil laws. Mainz prosecutors are looking at Boehmermann in a separate criminal case. Boehmermann has denied the allegations and has said his actions are a satire protected by freedom of speech and freedoms for artists.

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