There has been a political slanging match going on since the Federal Prosecutor Range 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.
In February this year, Netzpolitik.org exposed the German government’s plans to collect and monitor huge volumes of Internet data, mimicking the mass data acquisition by the NSA. A second article described the previously unheard of work of the "Extended Specialist Support Internet" department of Germany’s intelligence agency.
It was revealed last week that Range’s department had written to Netzpolitik.org saying it was investigating reporters Markus Beckedahl, Andre Meister and, it is understood, their source on a possible charge of treason.
Following a public outcry, the federal justice minister, Heiko Maas has called on Range to resign saying: "I have told federal prosecutor Range that my trust in his ability to fulfill the office has suffered lasting damage and therefore, in agreement with the chancellery, I will request his retirement today."
But critics lashed out at Maas, saying Range is being used as a paw and that Maas himself should resign over what has been described as a "glaring failure".
Christian Lindner, leader of the opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP), has become the latest politician to demand the head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maassen to resign.
Lindner claims Maassen ordered the original treason inquiry. "He expedited this charge through a report from his department. Maassen obviously did so because he didn't have his department under control and because he wanted to intimidate journalists — or at least accepted the intimidation of journalists," Lindner told the DPA news agency.
Lindner also called for an inquiry into the involvement of justice minister Maas and the interior minister Thomas de Maiziere.
"Who knew what and when? Who influenced who — or not, as the case may be," Lindner asked.
A spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said she believed it was important for the authorities to strike a balance where the issue of freedom of the press is at stake. The comments are being interpreted as Merkel distancing herself form the affair.
Merkel is already under pressure over surveillance after bitterly complaining about the US National Security Agency (NSA) bugging her phone in October 2013, yet her own Chancellery department, being exposed as having known about the German state’s own collusion, is assisting the NSA in surveillance operations in Germany.