German Federal Prosecutor General Harald Range on Friday said he had decided to halt investigations against journalists Markus Beckedahl (above, right) and Andre Meister (above, left). He said his office would not initiate criminal prosecution, taking into account Germany's legacy of press freedom.
Instead, initial investigations would try to find out whether the material published in Netzpolitik's website was classified as secret in the first place. "Until the expert opinion comes in, the investigations will be stopped," Range told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine" newspaper.
Prosecutors began investigating Beckedahl and Meister after the German domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, filed a complaint against the two.
The complaint accused the journalists of publishing two articles on Netzpolitik.org earlier this year that quoted from a highly confidential parliamentary committee report on a new unit to monitor the internet, especially social media. If found guilty, the two could be imprisoned for at least one year.
A state secret?
The constitutional protection office's head, Hans-Georg Maassen, said he did not want "internal papers to be made public and that is why we are now trying to hang these journalists out to dry," news agency dpa reported.
However, Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas said he doubted whether the leaked documents were a "state secret" whose publication would endanger German security.
Netzpolitik has won several awards for its journalism and digital rights campaign. Beckedahl and Meister received a lot of support from politicians and their peers in the industry after news of investigations against them became public.
"If journalists become culprits, if they have to fear that they will open themselves to prosecution by publishing certain information, then the risk to journalism is enormously high," George Mascolo, head of the joint investigative journalism team at NDR, WDR and the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" told reporters.
mg/sgb (dpa, epd)