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Merkel government under fire over media treason case

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Angela Merkel

Berlin: Germany’s opposition piled pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government today in a widening row over a controversial treason probe targeting bloggers who had written about Internet surveillance. In an affair that yesterday 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 Hans-Georg Maassen, who had filed the treason complaint against persons unknown in May.

The investigation accuses the blog Netzpolitik.org (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 NSA scandal revealed by fugitive US 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.