July 31, 2015 / 5:44 PM / in 2 years

Germany suspends treason probe against news website

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany has suspended a treason investigation into a news website while experts decide whether its articles on plans to increase state surveillance of online communications constituted a revelation of state secrets.

The probe opened on Thursday after a criminal complaint by the domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), over articles about it that appeared on the Netzpolitik.org blog on Feb. 25 and April 15.

Netzpolitik acknowledged in its reports that excerpts it had cited were either intended to be dealt with by a closed parliamentary committee or from a restricted official document.

However, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said on Friday that he had doubts about whether the journalists had intended to harm the state.

The federal prosecutor’s office, which was accused by the German press association DJV of attacking press freedom, said an expert study would determine whether the documents concerned contained state secrets.

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

Netzpolitik.org specializes in Internet politics, data protection, freedom of information and digital rights issues.

The two articles in question reported on how the BfV was seeking extra budget funding to increase its online surveillance, and on plans to set up a special unit to monitor social media.

The allegation of treason against journalists carries echoes of the 1962 “Spiegel Affair”, a Cold War-era scandal widely seen as a landmark in ensuring freedom of the press in postwar Germany.

Defence Minister Franz Josef Strauss was forced to resign after treason charges were brought against the news weekly Der Spiegel for a cover story alleging that West Germany’s armed forces were unprepared to defend it against the communist threat in the Cold War.

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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