Have you got an offensive poem about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Then you should think about entering the Spectator’s competition: there’s a £1,000 ($1,440) prize for the winner, paid for by a generous and free-speech loving reader.
The British magazine is running the competition in response to Germany’s decision to prosecute a comedian who read a poem mocking Erdogan on TV last month. The prosecution was possible thanks to an old and fairly obscure law against lèse majesté—insulting a head of state. The criminal offense is punishable by up to three years in prison in Germany.
The principle exists in the Netherlands, too. And the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam has been heavily criticized for asking Turks in Netherlands to report derogatory or disparaging statements against the Turkish president and Turkey. The email said:
To the relevant person,
We ask urgently for the names and written comments of people who have given derogatory, disparaging, hateful and defamatory statements against the Turkish president, Turkey and Turkish society in general, which have reached the members and relatives of your non-governmental organisations or fellow citizens from your surroundings via their social media addresses (such as Twitter or Facebook) or via the official address and e-mail addresses of your non-governmental organisation, to be sent in before the close of business on 21 April 2016 by email to the consulate general in Rotterdam
One Dutch MP reportedly described the email as “Erdogan’s long arm in the Netherlands.” The Turkish consulate has since backtracked, saying there was a misunderstanding and it was actually trying to collect more information on hate campaigns and racist comments.
Following Germany’s decision to prosecute the comedian, the Netherlands is now planning to abolish the law that makes it a criminal offense to insult a foreign head of state—but has no plans to remove the ban on insulting the Dutch monarch.
And though it’s pushing ahead with the lawsuit, Germany announced it would also scrap its lèse majesté law by 2018.
In France, the concept of lèse majesté survived the fall of the monarchy in the late 1790s; it existed in republican form from 1881 until 2013, when a man who insulted the-then French president Nicolas Sarkozy won his case against his prosecution under the law in the European Court of Human Rights (paywall). The seven judges ruled that the decision to prosecute him was “likely to have a chilling effect on satirical forms of expression relating to topical issues.”
In announcing the Spectator’s Erdogan insult poetry competition, Douglas Murray noted that he was “a free-born British man, and we don’t live under the blasphemy laws of such despots.” He suggested a limerick to win the prize:
That isn’t to say that entries which come in the form of Iambic pentameters, or heroic couplets will be completely discounted. I think a work in the Homeric mode, for example, about the smallness of Erdogan’s manhood could (if suitably disgusting) stand some chance of winning. But I recommend limericks because almost everything insulting that is worth saying can usually be included within the five lines of that beautiful and delicate form.
Entries are due by June 23.