Decision to prosecute satirist in Germany worrying, OSCE media freedom representative says, reiterating call to decriminalize defamation

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovi? today expressed concern about the decision in Germany to prosecute a satirist who derided the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an.

"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," Mijatovi? said.

Today it was announced that German authorities will launch a criminal investigation into satirist Jan BAlhmermann 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 Mijatovi? 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," Mijatovi? 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.

Mijatovi? 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 Mijatovi? 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," Mijatovi? 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."

Source: OSCE