Reuters International

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey May 8, 2016. Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

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BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court on Tuesday rejected a request by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan for a preliminary injunction preventing the head of German publisher Axel Springer repeating a derogatory term.

Erdogan's lawyer, Ralf Hoecker, told Reuters Erdogan had sought the injunction after Chief Executive Mathias Doepfner's public support for a controversial poem read out by comedian Jan Boehmermann on German television in March.

But the court said in a statement it had rejected it on the basis of "the defendant's right to free expression of opinion".

Erdogan is known for his sensitivity to criticism and Turkish prosecutors have opened over 1,800 cases against people for insulting him since he became president in 2014. That sensitivity has also made itself felt on the international stage, raising tensions with Germany at a time when the two countries are grappling with a huge influx of Syrian refugees.

Erdogan's office was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Reuters. The Turkish leader has repeatedly said his opponents are free to criticise him but that those who stray into insult will face legal action.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has drawn heavy criticism for allowing German prosecutors to pursue a case against Boehmermann at Erdogan's behest.

APPEAL IN OFFING

Under Germany's criminal code, insults against foreign leaders are not allowed but the government can decide whether to authorise prosecutors to go ahead.

In the poem, Boehmermann suggested Erdogan hits girls, watches child pornography and engages in bestiality.

Doepfner expressed solidarity with Boehmermann in an open letter published in German newspaper Welt am Sonntag in April, saying he had laughed out loud over the poem and "wholeheartedly" supported what the comedian had said.

If the court in Cologne had agreed to grant the injunction, Doepfner would have been banned from repeating a sexually crude term to describe Erdogan that was first used by Boehmermann and subsequently quoted by the Axel Springer chief.

The court said its decision did not address the legality of the Boehmermann poem, which is still under investigation.

A spokeswoman for Springer said Doepfner had simply "wanted to defend the freedom of art and satire in his open letter".

Hoecker had told Reuters earlier that he expected the Cologne district court to reject the injunction, and would recommend Erdogan appeal to a higher court. It was not immediately clear when a follow-on lawsuit could be filed.

Hoecker's law firm said on Monday it had won a preliminary injunction against German director and producer Uwe Boll, who in a video posted online, defended Boehmermann's poem and said Erdogan should be shot.

"Mr Erdogan is a human being and human dignity is inviolable," Hoecker said in that statement, adding that this was placed above the freedom of press, art and opinion in the German constitution.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Additional reporting by Harro Ten Wolde in Frankfurt; Klaus Lauer in Berlin, and Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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