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Range defends conduct in Netzpolitik case

August 7, 2015

Sacked German Federal Prosecutor Harald Range has defended his public attacks against Justice Minister Heiko Maas. Speaking to a German daily, he said he wanted to leave "with his head held high."

Harald Range
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/U. Anspach

In an interview with the daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" (FAZ), Harald Range justified his actions in the treason inquiry against two journalists who ran the "Netzpolitik" website.

Range said he had to act the way he did partly for legal reasons.

"I did not want to sneak away like a beaten dog. Instead, I wanted to leave with my head held high - also so that I wouldn't be liable for prosecution," said the former federal prosecutor, who was sacked on Tuesday.

Last week, Range ordered an investigation against the two bloggers of "Netzpolitik," a digital activism website. The two journalists, Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister, were being investigated for publishing classified documents that elaborated plans by Germany's domestic intelligence agency to extend monitoring of the Internet, especially social media.

The case provoked a heated debate on press freedom in Germany.

An external consultant had earlier come to the conclusion that some reports published by the website about the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution were indeed a betrayal of state secrets.

The prosecutor's office "did not want a second Spiegel affair," Range said, referring to a treason investigation in the 1960s, when the Defense Ministry accused journalists of "Der Spiegel" news magazine of publishing state secrets. That is why his office decided to bring in an external consultant on the issue, he said.

An encroachment by the ministry?

The external consultant's conclusions were, however, withdrawn and replaced by comments from the German Justice Ministry. Range argued that a piece of evidence could not be dealt with in this manner.

"To influence investigations because their possible results could be politically controversial is an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the judiciary," Range said in a public statement against Justice Minister Heiko Maas on Tuesday. The federal prosecutor was removed from office the same day.

Maas and Range differ on the dates when the external consultant was withdrawn and his comments replaced by those of the ministry. The row has led to demands for the abolition of the ministry's rights to give orders to the federal prosecutor's office. The federal prosecutor's post is currently set by the Justice Ministry.

Judges in Berlin are meanwhile examining complaints against the justice minister for the obstruction of justice.

"I do not understand Minister Maas' actions," Berlin's Senator of Justice Thomas Heilmann told the FAZ.

"If he believes his office to be the supervisory authority of the federal prosecutor's office, then he should have acted two months ago….Or else, if he believes, like me, that politics should not decide on criminal proceedings over political issues, then he shouldn't have acted now either," Heilmann concluded.

mg/tj (dpa, AFP)

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