23:28 GMT12 April 2021
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    A bitter row has broken out in Germany between the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s office over a treason investigation into two journalists, who exposed the role of the German secret service in the mass surveillance of its citizens.

    The Federal Minister for Justice, Heiko Maas, has called on the Federal Prosecutor General Harald Range to step down from his post after he ordered the investigation. 

     "I have told federal prosecutor Range that my trust in his ability to fulfil the office has suffered lasting damage and therefore, in agreement with the chancellery, I will request his retirement today," Maas said.

    But critics have lashed out, saying Range is being used as a paw and that Maas himself should resign over what has been described as a "glaring failure".

    The scandal broke out last week when it was revealed that Federal Attorney General had launched a treason investigation into the digital rights group Netzpolitik.org for the organization’s role in exposing the role of the German secret service in the mass surveillance of its citizens.

    Markus Beckedahl, founder of the website Netzpolitik.org, right, and author of a blog Andre Meister, left, pose in their office in Berlin, Germany.
    © AP Photo / Britta Pedersen/dpa via AP
    Markus Beckedahl, founder of the website Netzpolitik.org, right, and author of a blog Andre Meister, left, pose in their office in Berlin, Germany.

    In February 2015, Netzpolitik.org reported on the German government’s plans to collect and monitor huge volumes of Internet data, mimicking the mass data acquisition by the NSA. The report included the full text of a leaked secret surveillance budget from 2013. A second article exposed the "Erweiterten Fachunterstützung Internet" or "Extended Specialist Support Internet" department of Germany’s intelligence agency.

    Netzpolitik.org announced that it had received a letter from the Federal Attorney General and the President of the German Domestic Security Agency, stating that two of its reporters and an unknown party were under investigation for "treason" and could face two years in jail. The letter confirmed the agency was investigating reporters Markus Beckedahl, Andre Meister and, it is understood, their source.

    Political Ball Games

    There was a public outcry against the investigation, with many saying is was patently in the public interest that the extent of mass surveillance by the state on German citizens should be known about and that the investigation amounted to a witch hunt on whistle blowers.

    Participants of a demonstration protest in Berlin, Saturday Aug. 1, 2015. Banner at right reads Merkel und die Detektive! (lt: Merkel and the detectives).
    © AP Photo / Britta Pedersen
    Participants of a demonstration protest in Berlin, Saturday Aug. 1, 2015. Banner at right reads "Merkel und die Detektive!" (lt: Merkel and the detectives).

    Range was accused of political interference in the judicial process. The CSU Party home affairs spokesman Hans-Peter Uhl said that the justice ministry must have known about the Attorney General’s investigation over the past three months.

    "During this time, the Minister of Justice apparently made no use of his authority over Range" Uhl told the Handelsblatt newspaper. "The sudden dismissal [of Range] was strange. I think this is excessive and therefore also wrong," he added.

    Maas hit back saying: "The statements and the procedure selected by Attorney General Range procedure are incomprehensible and give the public a false impression."

    However, some politicians have accused Maas of playing politics. "The little war between the Federal Prosecutor's Office and the Justice Ministry cannot continue like this," Thomas Strobl, a Christian Democrat deputy chairman, told the newspaper Die Welt.

    "People are not sympathetic to this kind of internal preoccupation," he said.

    Related:

    Germany's Snowden Moment: Bloggers Face Treason Charges After Spy Expose
    Political Row Breaks Out in Germany Over Treason Charges
    Public Outrage to Halt Treason Probe Against German Bloggers
    German Journalist Treason Probe in Error - NGO
    Tags:
    spying, mass surveillance, treason, investigation, surveillance, Germany
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