Federal Prosecutor Harald Range has criticized "political influence" on the suspected treason investigation against two journalists from the blog Netzpolitik. He said he was pressured into putting the inquiry on hold.
Rather than resigning as many had expected from Harald Range at a hastily called press conference, Germany's federal prosecutor general voiced harsh criticism of the Justice Ministry on Tuesday.
He told reporters in Karlsruhe that the treason investigation of two journalists at the blog Netzpolitik.org had been politically influenced. Range claimed that he received instructions from Berlin to stop an external assessment he had commissioned.
"To influence an investigation because its possible result might not seem opportune is an intolerable interference with the freedom of justice," he stated, adding that this was the reason why he had chosen to inform the public.
According to Range, the external expert tasked with the assessment said the published documents were state secrets.
The federal prosecutor did, however, add that he followed the instructions from Berlin.
Journalists Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister face possible charges of treason for publishing internal documents from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, in their reports on plans to extend surveillance of the Internet.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's deputy spokesman, Christiane Wirtz, stated on Monday that the chancellor gave her "full support" to Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who on Friday expressed doubts as to whether the two journalists had committed treason by the leaked documents. Maas said he doubted whether the documents were a "state secret" whose publication would endanger German security.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said Minister Thomas de Maiziere also questioned the treason claims.
Several politicians called for Range's resignation over the affair that provoked a heated debate on press freedom. Christian Flisek, the representative for the Social Democrats (SPD) in the German parliament's NSA inquiry, called the Netzpolitik probe "just embarrassing."
The deputy chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), Wolfgang Kubicki, told the newspaper "Welt am Sonntag," "If the chief prosecutor ignores the constitutional right of freedom of the press and the task of journalists, then he is the wrong choice for the job."
Netzpolitik has won several awards for its reporting, including one from the German government as part of its "Land of Ideas" competition and the Grimme Prize in 2014.
das/sms (dpa, Reuters, AFP)