BERLIN (Reuters) - German prosecutors are investigating a comedian who recited an obscene poem about Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a satirical show on national television.
Gerd Deutschler, senior public prosecutor in the western city of Mainz, said at least 20 "private individuals" in Germany had filed a complaint against Jan Boehmermann, the iconoclastic host of the late-night "Neo Magazin Royale" on the public ZDF channel, and also against the broadcaster.
ZDF had already removed video of the poem from its website, saying it did not meet the standards expected of its satire shows.
Deutschler said Boehmermann was being investigated principally on suspicion of the crime of "offending foreign states' organs and representatives". He said the nationality of the complainants was not known.
Boehmermann, who has made a name for himself by pushing the boundaries of satire in a once-staid media landscape, made clear on the show that he was courting controversy.
Before reading his poem, Boehmermann referred to a satirical song broadcast on NDR television that had mocked Erdogan for his authoritarian treatment of journalists. That led Turkey to call in Germany's envoy to provide an explanation, although Germany rejected Turkish protests.
Speaking as if he were addressing Erdogan, Boehmermann explained that the NDR broadcast had fallen under the right to artistic freedom, press freedom and freedom of opinion.
He then offered to illustrate impermissible "abusive criticism", saying "You're not allowed to do this", and read the poem. Besides its crude sexual references, the piece accused Erdogan of repressing minorities and mistreating Kurds and Christians. It was shown with Turkish subtitles.
ZDF said it would provide the prosecutor with a copy of the video, as requested, but could not comment further on a live investigation.
The incident is awkward for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has spearheaded EU efforts to secure Turkey's help in dealing with Europe's migrant crisis. In a telephone conversation with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, she said the poem had been "deliberately offensive".
The crime in question carries a maximum punishment of three years' imprisonment, but Deutschler said it was not yet clear if that would apply in this case.
(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Kevin Liffey)