Online outrage in Germany after news bloggers accused of treason for snooping leak, probe halted

© netzpolitik.org
There has been an outpour of support on social media for two journalists from a German news website accused of state treason for leaking information on online surveillance. The probe was suspended on Friday shortly after its existence was made public.

READ MORE: ‘Media freedom is an utmost value’: Watchdog allows German TV to continue airing

Germany has suspended the investigation into the prominent Netzpolitik.org news website, whose reporters were accused of quoting an intelligence report, for “the greater good” of protecting freedom of the press, Reuters reported on Friday.

Federal Prosecutor Harald Range told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that “The investigation will be paused until the expert report comes in.”

The probe was launched after the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s intelligence agency, filed a complaint over articles published in Netzpolitik.org’s political and tech news blog on February 25 and April 15. The articles concerned a €2.75 million increase in BfV’s budget earmarked for expansion of online surveillance, especially of social media.

The Netzpolitik website was officially informed of the ongoing investigation in a brief letter from the Federal Attorney General of Germany, which it received on Wednesday.

The journalists, Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister, have been accused of an offence falling under section 94 of the German criminal code, meaning they could face at least two years behind bars.

“This is an attempt to curtail the media publishing damaging material, but it is also an attempt to put pressure on sources to stop leaking in the future,” Meister told The Local web portal, adding that the probe was “absurd” and a “heavy blow” to freedom of the press in the country.

“We will continue to publish documents when we believe there is public interest in their publication,” the journalist said.

READ MORE: Germany prepares for cyberwarfare offensive – reports 

DJV, the German press association, accused the federal prosecutor’s office of harassment of the press. Thousands of Twitter users used the #Landesverrat hashtag to express solidarity with the bloggers.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said on Friday that he “had doubts” as to whether the journalists had intended to harm the state or “assist a foreign power.”