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'Netzpolitik' treason probe dropped

August 10, 2015

Germany's acting federal prosecutor has terminated an investigation into two journalists on suspicion of treason. He said he had concluded that the information they had published did not contain state secrets.

Markus Beckedahl und Andre Meister Netzpolitik.org
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen

In an online statement issued on Monday, the acting chief federal prosecutor, Gerhard Altvater, said he had concluded, in concordance with the Justice Ministry, "that the content published was not a state secret" as defined by the German Criminal Code.

The two journalists from the Internet blog netzpolitik.org, Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister (pictured r. and l. above), were tapped for a probe on suspicion of treason after publishing leaked documents detailing plans by Germany's domestic intelligence agency to expand Internet surveillance, particularly of social media.

Although the probe into the two journalists has been dropped, the statement said proceedings would continue against persons unknown who might have violated official secrecy laws by passing on the documents to the journalists. These proceedings would be put in the hands of the relevant prosecutors, the statement said.

Widespread public outrage

Beckedahl, who founded the blog, said in a statement on Monday that it was not enough to just drop the probe, and called on authorities to state whether they had subjected Meister and him to surveillance measures during the investigation.

Online journalists: Investigators or traitors?

"We want concrete answers about whether we were the targets of surveillance measures during the nearly three-month-long investigation," Beckedahl said. "And we want clarity about who knew what and when in the government."

The Netzpolitik affair created a heated debate on press freedom in Germany and led to former Federal Prosecutor Harald Range being forced into early retirement on Tuesday. Range was removed from his post by Justice Minister Heiko Maas after Range accused Maas of political interference in the investigation.

Amid widespread outrage at news of the treason probe, seen by many as an assault on freedom of the press, Maas had publicly voiced doubts that the journalists' actions constituted treason. The minister also stopped a legal assessment of the case, which Range had commissioned to determine whether the documents' publication amounted to treason.

A Justice Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the decision to terminate the probe.

Germany's journalists unions praised the decision to drop the investigation.

"The attempts to criminalize the affected journalists has spectacularly failed, " said Michael Konken, head oft he German Federation of Journalists.

tj/sms (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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