August 10, 2015 / 10:35 AM / in 2 years

Germany drops treason probe against news website

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's acting chief public prosecutor on Monday dropped a treason investigation against a news website and said the secrets it leaked had not threatened national security.

Acting chief prosecutor Gerhard Altvater said documents published by blog Netzpolitik.org detailing plans to step up state surveillance of online communications did not constitute state secrets. All treason charges have therefore been dropped.

Altvater became acting chief prosecutor after his predecessor Harald Range was fired by Justice Minister Heiko Maas last week in a row that rocked Germany's political establishment.

Range had accused the justice ministry of meddling in the treason investigation.

Maas had previously expressed doubts over whether the publication of restricted documents belonging to the domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), had endangered Germany.

The treason investigation had been put on hold while an expert study looked into the articles published on Netzpolitik on Feb. 25 and April 15 this year.

The allegation of treason against journalists has prompted widespread outrage among press freedom advocates and lawyers.

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.

The Netzpolitik case has echoes of the 1962 "Spiegel Affair", a Cold War-era scandal widely seen as a landmark in ensuring freedom of the media in postwar Germany.

Writing by Josie Le Blond; Editing by Digby Lidstone

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