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Merkel backs treason probe suspension

August 3, 2015

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has joined two of her ministers in casting doubt on a treason probe into two Internet journalists. She said authorities needed to be sensitive where press freedom was at stake.

Deutschland Merkel und Maas im Bundestag
Image: Getty Images/AFP/O. Andersen

Merkel's deputy spokesperson, Christiane Wirtz, said on Monday that the chancellor gave her "full support" to Justice Minister Heiko Maas (seen with Merkel in above photo), who on Friday voiced doubts as to whether two journalists at the center of a federal investigation had committed treason by publishing sensitive documents from the domestic intelligence agency.

Wirtz declined to comment on whether Merkel still had confidence in Federal Prosecutor General Harald Range, who instigated the investigation against the journalists from the Internet blog Netzpolitik.org, Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister.

The journalists face possible charges of treason for citing internal papers from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in their reports on plans to extend monitoring of the Internet.

Sensitive issue

"It is now a matter of reaching clarity in the matter," Wirtz said, adding that authorities had to be "particularly sensitive" in cases where freedom of the press was concerned.

Andre Meister and markus Beckedahl at protest in Berlin Photo: Britta Pedersen/dpa
Meister and Beckedahl have taken part in protests for press freedomImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen

She also said that Merkel "expressly supported" the suspension of investigations while an external assessment commissioned by Range into the validity of the charges is being carried out.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said Minister Thomas de Maiziere also questioned the treason claims leveled at the journalists.

The Interior Ministry shared the doubts of the justice minister "whether the journalists had intended to disadvantage the Federal Republic of Germany or to benefit a foreign power with their publication," the spokesman said.

Calls to resign

Range has commissioned an external assessment of whether the published material was classified in nature and whether its publication does constitute treason, and has suspended the investigation until it is complete.

Range is facing calls to resignImage: Getty Images/AFP/T. Kienzle

The Justice Ministry is also carrying out its own assessment of the matter. The daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" said on Monday that officials would conclude in the report that treason charges against the journalists would be unfounded.

The affair has provoked a heated debate in Germany on press freedom. It has also caused rifts in the ruling coalition, with several politicians calling for Range's resignation over the affair.

tj/jil (Reuters, AFP)