By Heini Järvinen

As reported previously in EDRi-gram at the end of July 2015, two reporters of a German digital rights blog Netzpolitik.org, Markus Beckedahl and André Meister, were under investigation for treason after the publication of leaked documents revealing plans to expand German internet surveillance. On 10 August, German federal prosecutors announced that the much disputed investigation will be dropped.

When the treason investigation came to light, it raised immediately concerns over freedom of press. Hundreds of journalists, citizens and civil society representatives signed a statement declaring that the investigation for treason and their unknown sources is an attack against the free press, and demanding to end it. Thousands participated in a demonstration organised on 1 August in Berlin to support Netzpolitik.org. A great number of politicians expressed also their concerns.

Following the protests, Germany’s prosecutor general, Harald Range, decided to put the investigation on hold, and stated that he would “await the results of an internal investigation into whether the journalists had quoted from a classified intelligence report, before deciding how to proceed.” On 4 August, Justice Minister Heiko Maas requested Range’s dismissal, after consultations with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office, and questioned the necessity of the investigation. Range justified his actions, stating that he had to proceed the way he did partly for legal reasons. He criticised the government’s interference into the investigation, and called it “intolerable invasion of the independence of the judiciary”. Following the dismissal of the prosecutor general, it was revealed that the Ministry of Interior had detailed knowledge about every phase of the investigation.

Less than a week after Range’s dismissal, the case took a new turn when the acting federal prosecutor announced that he had concluded, in agreement with the Ministry of Justice, that the leaked documents didn’t constitute state secrets, and that the investigation will be dropped.

The journalists at Netzpolitik.org have asked the German government to confirm if surveillance measures have been put in place by the state in order to monitor their activities. “We want to know concretely if we were the subject of surveillance during the nearly three-month probe,” said Markus Beckedahl in a statement posted on the blog.

Germany’s top prosecutor drops treason probe of Netzpolitik bloggers (10.08.2015)
http://www.wsj.com/articles/germanys-top-prosecutor-drops-treason-probe-of-netzpolitik-bloggers-1439208869

German journalists celebrate as treason inquiry is dropped (10.08.2015)
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/11/world/europe/germany-treason-reporters.html

EDRi-gram: Leaked documents: German news site Netzpolitik.org investigated for treason (31.07.2015)
https://edri.org/leaked-documents-german-news-site-netzpolitik-org-investigated-for-treason/

Jacob Applebaum: The nightmare is punishment (06.08.2015)
https://netzpolitik.org/2015/jacob-appelbaum-zum-landesverrat-the-nightmare-is-the-punishment-der-alptraum-ist-die-strafe/

The Statement: The investigation against Netzpolitik.org for treason and their unknown sources is an
attack against the free press
https://netzpolitik.us/statement/

Germany pauses treason investigation into Netzpolitik.org journalists (02.08.2015)
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/08/germany-pauses-treason-investigation-into-netzpolitik-org-journalists/

German justice minister to request prosecutor’s dismissal over treason case (04.08.2015)
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/04/german-justice-minister-to-request-prosecutors-dismissal-treason-case-journalists-spy-agency-surveillance

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