BERLIN • Germany's government has sacked the top public prosecutor after he accused the Justice Ministry of interfering in a widely criticised treason investigation against a news website.
Prosecutor Harald Range last week suspended the investigation into netzpolitik.org while he awaited an independent expert opinion on whether the website had revealed state secrets by publishing plans to step up state surveillance of online communications.
Privacy is an especially sensitive issue in Germany after the extensive surveillance by Communist East Germany's Stasi secret police and by the Gestapo in the Nazi era.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas said last week that it was important to defend the independence of the press, adding that he doubted whether the publication of the documents would endanger Germany.
In a rare clash between the state and judiciary, Mr Maas said that he no longer trusted Mr Range after his accusations of political interference and his decision to go public.
"The remarks and the chosen course of action by the federal prosecutor today are not comprehensible and give the public a false impression," Mr Maas said in Berlin on Tuesday. He said he had asked the president to retire Mr Range.
Mr Range had told journalists earlier on Tuesday that "influencing investigations because the result they might have doesn't seem politically opportune is an intolerable intervention in the independence of the judiciary".
Mr Maas said both sides had agreed last Friday that the Justice Ministry would assess whether the publication amounted to revealing state secrets and that Mr Range's idea of an independent expert opinion should be dropped.
Netzpolitik acknowledged in its reports that excerpts it had cited were either intended to be dealt with by a closed parliamentary committee or were from a restricted official document.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that the Justice Minister had her full support.