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Germany Halts Journalist Treason Charge Amid Public Outrage

Germany have halted the prosecution of two journalists who write for political news website Netzpolitik.org for alleged treason, following widespread protests and condemnation from members of the public and the worlds media. 

Prosecutor Harald Range explained the U-turn as being “for the good of press and media freedom” and that he would “await the results of an internal investigation into whether the journalists from the news platform netzpolitik.org had quoted from a classified intelligence report before deciding how to proceed.”

Arstechnica.com reports:

The head of German intelligence services, Hans-Georg Maassen, still defended the idea of bringing criminal charges against the site’s writers. He told the German weekly Bild am Sonntag “to continue the fight against extremism and terrorism…it was necessary to guard against the publication of documents classified as confidential or secret.”

As Ars reported last Thursday, Netzpolitik.org published two leaked documents earlier this year detailing plans to expand surveillance of social networks by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, of which Maassen is president. Initially, the investigation was believed to be into whoever was responsible for the leaks, but the search was widened last week to include two Netzpolitik.org journalists: Markus Beckedahl, the site’s editor-in-chief, and Andre Meister.

News that the journalists were under investigation for treason drew widespread condemnation from dozens of leading German newspapers and radio stations. Correctiv.org re-published the leaked documents and then reported itself to Germany’s prosecutor general on the grounds that it was as guilty as the Netzpolitik.org team and should therefore be investigated as well.

The Guardian noted that several German politicians have weighed in on the affair. The leading Green MP Renate Künast called the investigation a “humiliation to the rule of law,” accusing Range of targeting the two journalists while ignoring the “massive spying and eavesdropping [conducted] by the NSA in Germany.” The latter is still a sensitive subject among the German public. On Saturday, thousands marched in Berlin to demonstrate their support for the Netzpolitik.org journalists and press freedom.