Germany scraps treason probe into blog

BERLIN • The German chief prosecutor's office has scrapped a controversial treason probe against bloggers that had sparked a wave of press freedom protests. Acting chief prosecutor Gerhard Altvater said yesterday documents published by blog Netzpolitik.org detailing plans to step up state surveillance of online communications did not constitute state secrets. All treason charges have therefore been dropped.

His office said a probe over who leaked the papers, however, would continue and be handed to a local prosecutor's office which would investigate on charges of "violation of professional secrecy".

Mr Altvater became acting chief prosecutor after his predecessor, Mr Harald Range, was dismissed by Justice Minister Heiko Maas last week in a row that rocked Germany's political establishment.

The uproar over Germany's first treason investigation in over half a century, against Netzpolitik.org (Net politics) - which calls itself a digital civil-rights blog - had led to a major political spat and the sacking of Mr Range.

News of the investigation had sparked protests from journalists, activists and lawmakers who condemned the case as an attack on press freedom and an attempt to intimidate investigative reporters.

Questions of state surveillance are hotly debated in Germany, a country with raw memories of fascist and communist dictatorships. The Netzpolitik case has echoes of the 1962 "Spiegel Affair", a Cold War-era scandal widely seen as a landmark in ensuring freedom of the media in post-war Germany.

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.

Mr Markus Beckedahl, the founder of Netzpolitik.org, said yesterday: "I am not surprised that the investigation has been closed because it was a preposterous legal construct."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2015, with the headline 'Germany scraps treason probe into blog'. Print Edition | Subscribe