German satirist Jan Böhmermann sought to test the limits of free speech, and ended up sparking an international incident. The TV comedian was accused of slandering Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by reading an expletive-fueled “smear poem” about the leader on public TV. Mr. Böhnermann defended his vulgar verse, saying it was within the realms of political satire. The Turkish president sued the comedian in a German court for slander. Ms. Merkel, who helped cut a deal with Turkey to stop the flow of refugees into the E.U. earlier in the year, permitted the Turkish president’s complaint to proceed in court, sparking criticism that she was too beholden to the Ankara autocrat. In October, German prosecutors eventually dropped the case.
The event served as a microcosm of just how strained Turkey’s on-again, off-again relationship with Germany became after this summer’s attempted coup in Turkey, which saw hundreds killed and at least 100,000 detained. The brutal crackdown and large-scale imprisonment of supposed coup-supporters by Mr. Erdogan was widely condemned in Germany and is part of what prompted Mr. Böhmermann’s satire in the first place.
The situation so deteriorated that Turkey’s foreign minister accused Germany of harboring thousands of members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. He also accused Germany of blocking extradition of supporters of Fethullah Gülen, a former imam held up as the coup leader who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. In November, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described E.U.-Turkey relations as being in a “sorry state.” In 2016, Germany saw a big surge in asylum seekers from Turkey, with twice as many applications between January and October than in all of 2015.