German gov't stresses press freedom amid treason probe

AP News
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Posted: Aug 03, 2015 8:50 AM

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff stressed the German government's commitment to protecting press freedom Monday in the wake of a much-criticized decision by federal prosecutors to open a treason investigation against two journalists.

Website Netzpolitik.org said Thursday it had been notified of the probe against two journalists and an unidentified source over two reports revealing the domestic spy agency's plans to expand surveillance of online communication.

A day later, chief federal prosecutor Harald Range said that the probe is being "paused" pending an expert opinion on whether the outlet revealed state secrets.

Merkel's chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, said he welcomed that decision "because the impression has arisen that the issue of press freedom was not handled appropriately."

"I think it is very important for journalists and the media in Germany to know that press freedom is a top priority for us, and that we respect and protect it in everything we do as a government," Altmaier told ZDF television.

Range opened the investigation following a criminal complaint from Germany's domestic intelligence agency. Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who oversees his office, questioned the decision after news of the investigation broke last week.

The Interior Ministry, which oversees the intelligence agency, shares Maas' doubts as to whether the journalists intended to damage Germany or benefit a foreign power, which would constitute treason, ministry spokesman Tobias Plate said Monday.

Meanwhile, the federal prosecutors' office confirmed that its website was the subject of a hacking attack on Friday. The unidentified attacker attempted to access a database on the website before technicians took it down to prevent further harm to the site, the office said.