Monday

19th Nov 2018

German justice minister fires prosecutor over treason investigation

  • The website, Netzpolitik.org, had published classified documents in Spring on plans by Germany's intelligence services to expand internet surveillance (Photo: Bob Mical)

Germany's justice minister on Tuesday (4 August) fired the country's top prosecutor Harald Range over his treason investigation of two journalists, in a case that has gripped the country over recent days.

Tuesday's showdown came after Range accused Heiko Maas, the justice minister and his political boss, of unacceptable political interference in his investigation into an internet rights website.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Data privacy is an extremely sensitive issue in Germany (Photo: aktion-freiheitstattangst.org)

"Exerting influence on an investigation because its possible outcome may not be politically opportune represents an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the judiciary," said Range.

The website, Netzpolitik.org, had published classified documents in Spring on plans by Germany's intelligence services to expand internet surveillance.

The current debate kicked off when the journalists, Andre Meister and Markus Beckedahl, last week published a letter from Range saying they were to be investigated for possible treason.

The revelations led to a public outcry and embarrassed the government which was accused of infringing on press freedom. There were protests in support of Netzpolitik while on Twitter #Landesverrat (#treason) became a trending hashtag.

Following Range's accusation of interference, Maas responded that he had "lost confidence" in the prosecutor, who he said had agreed on Friday to suspend the probe into the journalists.

“The actions and statements today by federal prosecutor general Range are not comprehensible and send the wrong message to the public,” Maas said.

He added that he would ask president Joachim Gauck to move the 67-year-old Range into early retirement.

On Sunday Range said he had launched the investigation after a complaint by the country's intelligence agency over Netzpolitik's revelations.

The intelligence agency said it wanted legal action against the publication of documents classified as secret in order to be able to fight terrorism in future.

The issue involves several highly sensitive issues for Germans: the right to privacy, press freedom and freedom of speech.

The questions have been at the forefront of domestic politics over recent years amid revelations that US intelligence services had spied on Chancellor Angela Merkel and generally conducted mass surveillance operations in Europe, raising questions about how much Germany's secret services knew about the operations.

Meanwhile the Netzpolitik affair recalls a famous 1962 case involving Der Spiegel when police arrested several journalists for revealing what the government said were state secrets about weaknesses in Germany's defence capabilities.

Beckedahl, Netzpolitik’s founder, Tuesday said the treason probe was an “attempt to intimidate” journalists and their sources and prevent them from reporting on "the greatest surveillance scandal in the history of humanity".

Opinion

Europe and free speech: A race to the bottom?

Whether dealing with terrorism, extremism, racism or privacy concerns, the European default solution seems to involve chipping away at freedom of expression.

Romania data chief defends forcing press to reveal sources

Romania's data protection authority is headed by Ancuta Gianina Opre, who in 2017 was charged with abuse of office in her previous job. Last week, she threatened a €20m fine against journalists in their effort to uncover corruption.

EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press

Romania's data protection authority has threatened a €20m fine against reporters investigating high-level corruption. The European Commission has since issued a warning, telling Romanian authorities to give press exemptions when it comes to privacy rights.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland extradites Polish man despite rule of law concerns
  2. Germany and France agree eurozone budget framework
  3. Austrian foreign minister: EU's Israel policy 'too strict'
  4. Soros and Kurz discuss Central European University move
  5. EU set to tighten rules on foreign strategic investment
  6. Macron repeats call for unified Europe in Bundestag speech
  7. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  8. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem

Opinion

Interpol, China and the EU

China joins a long list of countries - including Russia - accused of abusing Interpol's 'Red Notice' system to harras activists and dissidents.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Whistleblower: Danske Bank gag stops me telling more
  2. Spain raises Gibraltar, as EU and UK talk post-2020 relationship
  3. Panic is not answer to EU's security challenges
  4. Dutch flesh out proposal for EU human rights sanctions
  5. EU cheerleaders go to Russia-occupied Ukraine
  6. EU must recognise new force for Balkans destabilisation
  7. Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK
  8. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us