Merkel gov’t un­der fire over media trea­son case


Ger­many’s op­po­si­tion piled pres­sure on Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s gov­ern­ment Wed­nes­day in a widen­ing row over a con­tro­ver­sial trea­son probe tar­get­ing blog­gers who had writ­ten about In­ter­net sur­veil­lance.

In an af­fair that Tues­day claimed the scalp of the chief pros­e­cu­tor, crit­ics are now ask­ing why min­is­ters al­lowed Ger­many’s first media trea­son in­ves­ti­ga­tion in half a cen­tury to go ahead in the first place.

Left­ist op­po­si­tion par­ties have de­manded a par­lia­men­tary in­quiry and the res­ig­na­tion of do­mes­tic se­cu­rity agency chief Han­sGe­org Maassen, who had filed the trea­son com­plaint against per­sons un­known in May.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion ac­cuses the blog Net­zpoli­ (Net pol­i­tics) of re­veal­ing “state se­crets” by pub­lish­ing plans by the do­mes­tic se­cu­rity agency to step up mon­i­tor­ing of the In­ter­net and so­cial media.

News of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion last week sparked protests from other jour­nal­ists who con­demned the case as an at­tack on press free­dom and an at­tempt to in­tim­i­date in­ves­tiga­tive re­porters.

The charge of trea­son — to re­veal state se­crets to the detri­ment of the na­tion and to aid a for­eign power — car­ries be­tween one year and, in very se­ri­ous cases, life in jail.

Ques­tions of state sur­veil­lance, in­clud­ing the U.S. Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency (NSA) scan­dal re­vealed by fugi­tive U.S. in­tel­li­gence con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den, are hotly de­bated in Ger­many, a coun­try with raw mem­o­ries of fas­cist and com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ships.

As the Net­zpoli­tik case rapidly turned po­lit­i­cally toxic — spark­ing a Twit­ter storm and a Ber­lin street rally at the week­end — Jus­tice Min­is­ter Heiko Maas dis­tanced him­self, voic­ing doubt the doc­u­ments were in­deed state se­crets.

With Merkel’s back­ing, his min­istry urged chief pros­e­cu­tor Har­ald Range to wind back the case.

Range, aged 67 and a year from re­tire­ment, shot back Tues­day, openly ac­cus­ing the min­istry of “an in­tol­er­a­ble en­croach­ment on the in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­ciary.” Maas fired him sev­eral hours later.

‘Facts on the ta­ble’

Ger­many’s op­po­si­tion par­ties, the Greens and the far-left Linke, on Wed­nes­day aimed their sights on Maas, se­cu­rity agency chief Maassen and his boss, In­te­rior Min­is­ter Thomas de Maiziere.

“This is far from over,” said Greens leader Si­mone Peter, de­mand­ing an­swers from the min­istries about when the probe was launched and why.

“We want the

facts on

the ta­ble,” she said. “This has the cal­iber of a gov­ern­ment scan­dal. That’s why the chan­cellery owes us some an­swers too.”

The Bild news­pa­per com­mented that “Maas has not emerged un­scathed from this skir­mish. He should have told the chief pros­e­cu­tor long ago that he did not have his bless­ing for this in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Linke law­maker Har­ald Pet­zold de­manded ex­pla­na­tions from the gov­ern­ment, and the res­ig­na­tion of Maassen, who is head of the do­mes­tic se­cu­rity agency called the Fed­eral Of­fice for the Pro­tec­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

“All of this hap­pened back in May, and now they all claim they didn’t know about it, they were sur­prised by it, they are sud­denly voic­ing their con­cern,” said Pet­zold.

Merkel’s spokes­woman re­it­er­ated Wed­nes­day that the chan­cel­lor sup­ported the jus­tice min­is­ter’s de­ci­sion, while the in­te­rior min­istry said the se­cu­rity agency chief had acted “cor­rectly.”

The Ger­man Jour­nal­ists’ As­so­ci­a­tion mean­while again de­manded that “the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of the two jour­nal­ists Markus Beckedahl and An­dre Meis­ter must end im­me­di­ately.”

Net­zpoli­tik it­self pub­lished a state­ment of sol­i­dar­ity signed by dozens of ac­tivists, jour­nal­ists and aca­demics — among them Wik­ileaks founder Ju­lian As­sange and Glenn Green­wald, who has worked closely with Snow­den.

“Charges of trea­son against jour­nal­ists per­form­ing their es­sen­tial work is a vi­o­la­tion of the fifth ar­ti­cle of the Ger­man con­sti­tu­tion,” they wrote. “We de­mand an end to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Net­zpoli­tik. org and their un­known sources.”


Ger­many’s chief fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor Har­ald Range speaks to jour­nal­ists in Karl­sruhe, Ger­many, Tues­day, Aug. 4.

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