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Most Germans oppose Merkel on prosecution of comedian, poll shows

Two thirds of Germans oppose Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow prosecutors to pursue a case against a German comedian who mocked Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, a poll published on Sunday showed.

Merkel announced her decision on Friday after Erdogan demanded that Germany press charges against Jan Boehmermann after he recited a sexually crude satirical poem about the Turkish leader on German public broadcaster ZDF on March 31.

A section of the German criminal code prohibits insults against foreign leaders but leaves it to the government to decide whether to authorise prosecutors to pursue such cases.

This put Merkel in an awkward position as she has been the driving force behind a European Union deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees into Europe.

Sunday’s survey by pollster Emnid for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper found that 66 percent of those questioned opposed Merkel’s decision to allow prosecutors to pursue the case. Only 22 percent said she was right, with 12 percent undecided.

Emnid polled 500 people on Friday afternoon.

Merkel’s decision had already divided her ruling coalition and prompted accusations that she failed to protect free speech.

In 2010, Merkel spoke out for freedom of speech during an event to honour a Danish cartoonist whose drawings sparked outrage among Muslims in 2005.

“It is about whether or not he can publish his cartoons, yes or no,” said Merkel. “Whether they are necessary or helpful or tasteful or not doesn’t matter. Is he allowed to do it? Yes, he is.”

“Europe is a place where a cartoonist can draw cartoons. That is not to contradict that Europe is also a place of freedom of belief and religion. The respect for belief and religion is a highly valued good,”

The chancellor travels to Turkey on Saturday and her centre-left Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners, who had wanted the Turkish request to be rejected, urged her to champion freedom of opinion and of the media on the trip.

“Without these basic liberties, democracy is not conceivable – the Turkish government must recognise that too,” SPD Secretary General Katarina Barley told the Bild am Sonntag.

Under the EU’s deal with Turkey, Ankara will help manage the refugee crisis and be rewarded with financial aid, visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.

ZDF has said it will help Boehmermann fight any case brought by prosecutors for mocking Erdogan. The comedian said before reciting the poem that he was intentionally going beyond what German law allowed.

The broadcaster said the cult comedian is taking a break from producing his programme until May 12. He is reportedly under police protection.

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