Section of Criminal Code repealed

Cabinet overturns "lèse majesté section" of Criminal Code

The German government intends to repeal the so-called "lèse majesté section". The Cabinet has adopted a bill that will repeal Section 103 of the German Criminal Code, which has hitherto regulated insults to organs and representatives of foreign states.

Section 103 of the German Criminal Code with the paragraph symbol

Section 103 of the German Criminal Code (Insult to organs or representatives of foreign states) soon to be a thing of the past

Photo: mauritius images

In the view of the German government, the provisions of Chapter 14 of the German Criminal Code (Insults: Section 185 to Section 200) are sufficient to protect the honour of the organs and representatives of foreign states. It is no longer appropriate in this day and age to think that representatives of a foreign state require any greater protection of their honour. In particular, there is no need for a higher penalty to protect organs and representatives of foreign states than that laid out for insulting any other persons.

The provision is "dispensable"

Chancellor Angela Merkel personally advocated the repeal of Section 103 of the German Criminal Code. Back in April 2016 she announced that a bill would be introduced in parliament to this end, and explained that the "German government is of the opinion that Section 103 is dispensable in future as a criminal law provision to protect personal honour".

To ensure that the bill passes parliament before the end of this legislative period it will be treated as urgent, which will allow it to come into effect on 1 January 2018.

Criminal offence under Section 103 of the Criminal Code

Insulting foreign heads of state or diplomatic representatives of foreign states has hitherto been considered a separate criminal offence under Section 103 of the German Criminal Code (popularly known as the "lèse majesté section"), provided the Federal Republic of Germany maintains diplomatic relations with the state in question, that there is an equivalent legal provision in place in that country, that the foreign government approaches the German government with a request for criminal prosecution, and that the German government permits the criminal prosecution to go ahead.

In contrast to the crime of insult (as laid out in Section 185 of the German Criminal Code), which stipulates a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment for verbal insult, Section 103 stipulates a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment – an offender found guilty of slanderous insult can in fact face up to five years imprisonment.

The background

An "insulting poem" about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan broadcast by satirist Jan Böhmermann triggered the reform of the crime of insulting organs and representatives of foreign states. The Mainz public prosecutor’s office investigated accusations that Jan Böhmermann had insulted the Turkish President. The case against him was based on Section 103 of the German Criminal Code. The Mainz public prosecutor’s office closed the investigation and dropped the charges at the start of October 2016.

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