view counter

SurveillanceGerman prosecutors charge news Web site with treason over leaks of surveillance plan

Published 31 July 2015

German authorities have launched a treason investigation into a news Web site which had reported on government plans to broaden state surveillance of online communications. This is the first time in more than fifty years that German journalists are facing treason charges for publishing leaked documents.

German authorities have launched a treason investigation into a news Web site which had reported on government plans to broaden state surveillance of online communications.

Legal experts specializing in media law said it was the first time in more than fifty years that journalists in Germany had faced treason charges.

“The federal prosecutor has started an investigation on suspicion of treason into the articles … published on the internet blog Netzpolitik.org,” a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office said.

She noted the move by her office followed a criminal complaint by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), over articles about the BfV which appeared on the website on 25 February and 15 April. The news Web site said the articles had been based on leaked documents.

The Guardian reports that Netzpolitik.org had published an article on how the BfV was seeking additional funding to increase the agency’s online surveillance, and another article about plans to set up a special surveillance unit to monitor social media. The Web site claimed both articles were based on leaked confidential documents.

The Web site covers Internet political and technology developments, data protection, freedom of information, and digital rights issues.

“This is an attack on the freedom of the press,” Netzpolitik.org journalist Andre Meister, the author of the 15 April article and, along with editor-in-chief Markus Beckedahl, a target of the investigation, said in a statement. “We’re not going to be intimidated by this.”

Michael Konken, head of the German press association, called the investigation “an unacceptable attempt to muzzle two critical journalists.”

In 1962 the defense minister, Franz Josef Strauss, was forced to resign after he persuaded federal prosecutors to bring treason charges against the news weekly Der Spiegel for a cover story, also based on leaked documents, saying that West Germany’s armed forces were unprepared to defend West Germany against a Soviet invasion from the east. The article argued that the West German armed forces were counting on the armies of West Germany’s NATO allies to repel such an invasion.

Beckedahl told the TV network N24: “I’m torn between feeling like this is an accolade and the thought that it could end up leading to jail.”