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Justice Ministry 'warned on treason probe'

August 3, 2015

The German Justice Ministry cautioned federal prosecutors against a treason probe into two journalists, a newspaper report has said. The affair has caused a heated row within the coalition government.

Markus Beckedahl, Gründer des Blogs Netzpolitik.org
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen

The German Justice Ministry said it warned Federal Prosecutor General Harald Range against pursuing an investigation for treason into two journalists writing for the blog Netzpolitik.org, German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" reported on Monday.

The ministry has said federal prosecutors had informed it on May 27 about the investigation, which was launched on May 13, according to paper.

The paper cited the Justice Ministry as saying that it told Range it felt such an investigation was wrong. According to the report, several other government ministries were also given details of the probe early on - something that has until now been officially denied.

News of the probe dominated German media last week when it became public, and prosecutors later said they would halt the inquiry after an online uproar erupted over censuring a freedom of the press. Prosecutors had earlier also dropped an investigation into the unknown person who leaked the information to the two journalists.

Passing the buck

The Federal Prosecutor's Office has denied receiving a clear warning, saying that the ministry had only indicated that such an investigation could be problematic, the "Süddeutsche" reported.

Entrance to Germany's domestic intelligence agency Photo: Oliver Berg/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Intelligence officials want to know how the journalists gained the informationImage: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg

The paper cited the office as saying that the investigation was launched only after the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution - Germany's domestic intelligence agency - had assessed two publications by Netzpolitik as divulging state secrets.

The Justice Ministry is looking into whether the information published was indeed classified, preempting a similar assessment commissioned by the prosecutor's office that has been delayed due to a consultant being on summer holiday.

Officials at the ministry will conclude in a statement due on Thursday that the blog reports did not constitute treason, according to information gathered by the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" and public broadcasters NDR and WDR.

Freedom of the press under threat?

The two journalists, Markus Beckedahl (photo at top) and Andre Meister, are under investigation for treason for having cited allegedly classified documents in a report about plans by the domestic intelligence agency to extend monitoring of the internet, particularly social networks.

The investigation has prompted heated debate about freedom of the press in Germany, and sparked a row within the country's ruling coalition, with several politicians calling for Range's resignation.

Netzpolitik has won a number of reporting awards for its work, including one from the German government as part of its "Land of Ideas" competition.

The last such treason investigation in Germany occurred more than 50 years ago, when the Defense Ministry alleged that journalists at "Der Spiegel" news magazine had published state secrets. The case was dismissed by the Federal Court of Justice as lacking evidence to support the charges.

tj/sms (dpa, Reuters, AFP)