Ger­man trea­son probe sparks po­lit­i­cal rift

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

A clash be­tween Ger­many’s chief pros­e­cu­tor and the jus­tice min­is­ter burst into the open Tues­day, sparked by a trea­son probe into a blog that had pub­lished clas­si­fied se­cu­rity agency files.

Chief pros­e­cu­tor Har­ald Range took the un­usual step of openly ac­cus­ing Jus­tice Min­is­ter Heiko Maas of “an in­tol­er­a­ble en­croach­ment on the in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­ciary”.

The case cen­ters on the Net­zpoli­tik. org ( Net pol­i­tics) blog, which ear­lier this year pub­lished doc­u­ments on plans by Ger­many’s do­mes­tic se­cu­rity agency to ex­pand its In­ter­net sur­veil­lance.

Last Thurs­day the blog re­vealed that Range’s of­fice had launched a trea­son in­ves­ti­ga­tion into two of its writ­ers — Ger­many’s first such probe against the media in over half a cen­tury.

The news set off a storm of protest and ex­pres­sions of sol­i­dar­ity from jour­nal­ists, blog­gers and politi­cians, who charged the trea­son case was an at­tempt to si­lence in­ves­tiga­tive re­porters.

On Twit­ter # Lan­desver­rat (#trea­son) be­came a top trend­ing topic and the case sparked a Ber­lin street rally and online pe­ti­tions in sup­port of Net­zpoli­tik.

Maas had also crit­i­cized the probe, which Range sus­pended on Fri­day, pend­ing ad­vice from an in­de­pen­dent ex­pert on whether the pub­lished doc­u­ments were in­deed “state se­crets”.

The con­tro­versy has flared amid per­sis­tent anger over the U. S. Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency’s mass sur­veil­lance ac­tiv­i­ties re­vealed by fugi­tive in­tel­li­gence con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den, and ques­tions about the ex­tent of Ger­man co­op­er­a­tion.

‘Chill­ing ef­fect’

Maas, the jus­tice min­is­ter, has the back­ing of Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel in the spat, her spokes­woman said, and some crit­ics called on Range to step down.

But on Tues­day the 67-year-old chief pros­e­cu­tor shot back.

He said the in­de­pen­dent ex­pert had agreed that the doc­u­ments ap­peared to be state se­crets, as as­serted by do­mes­tic se­cu­rity agency chief Hans-Ge­org Maassen.

Range said he had in­formed the jus­tice min­is­ter of this but was told “to im­me­di­ately stop” the process of com­mis­sion­ing out­side ad­vice.

The chief pros­e­cu­tor said he had com­plied, but he added an­grily that “to ex­ert in­flu­ence on an in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­cause its pos­si­ble out­come may not be po­lit­i­cally opportune rep­re­sents an in­tol­er­a­ble en­croach­ment on the in­de­pen- dence of the ju­di­ciary”.

“I saw my­self obliged to in­form the public about this,” he added in a state­ment.

On the broader Net­zpoli­tik case, he said: “The free­dom of the press and of ex­pres­sion is a valu­able as­set.

“But this free­dom, in­clud­ing on the In­ter­net, is not lim­it­less. It does not ab­solve jour­nal­ists of the duty to com­ply with the law.”

Net­zpoli­tik founder Markus Beckedahl said Tues­day he saw the trea­son probe as an “at­tempt to in­tim­i­date” jour­nal­ists and their sources to stop re­port­ing on as­pects of “the great­est sur­veil­lance scan­dal in the history of hu­man­ity.”

The case also made waves abroad, when the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion in Europe urged the probe be stopped, in an open let­ter to For­eign Min­is­ter Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier.

“The threat of be­ing charged with trea­son has a clear gen­eral chill­ing ef­fect on jour­nal­ists en­gaged in in­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing,” wrote OSCE media free­dom rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dunja Mi­ja­tovic.

“I urge the author­i­ties in Ger­many to look into the case and en­sure that free­dom of in­for­ma­tion and free­dom of the media are re­spected, and hope the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is ter­mi­nated.”

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