Press freedom demonstrators protest after news website accused of treason

Demonstrators protest for press freedom in Berlin after Germany’s Federal Prosecutor opened an investigation into journalists at a news website to clarify whether or not the publication of certain documents could be deemed as treason.

BERLIN, GERMANY (AUGUST 1, 2015) (REUTERS) – Over 1,000 demonstrators gathered in central Berlin on Saturday (August 1) in a show of support for journalists facing investigation for treason after reporting on plans to increase state surveillance of online communications.

Germany’ Federal Prosecutor opened the investigation on Thursday (July 30) after a complaint by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), over articles about the BfV that appeared on the Netzpolitik.org news blog on February 25 and April 15.

The case is now under review, with Justice Minister Heiko Maas telling journalists on Friday (July 31) he had lodged doubts with the prosecutor.

Protesters came out in force on Saturday to denounce the investigation, among them the journalists themselves Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister.

“The accusation is particularly absurd because it is a matter of secret service spying and without whistleblowers like Edward Snowden we would have no idea what is going on, what the secret services are doing with our tax money. There is even an investigation committee that wouldn’t exist at all without whistleblowers. Whistleblowers need our support and immunity from prosecution. We actually need a whistleblower protection law instead of criminal prosecution,” Meister told Reuters, adding that the Netzpolitik.org journalists would continue their work spurred on by the show of public support.

Demonstrators brandished placards denouncing Chancellor Angela Merkel and calling for freedom of the press before beginning a march to the Justice Ministry, where police said they counted 1,300 participants.

One of them, Rosamarie Rieger, said the affair reminded her of life under surveillance in the former German Democratic Republic with its infamous Stasi secret service.

“I find the whole thing terrible, quite simply terrible. […] I have experienced this before, I think a lot of GDR (former German Democratic Republic – East Germany) citizens have experienced it. What is it supposed to achieve? Why?” she said.

Fellow demonstrator Annika Vogt said the general public should be more concerned about restrictions on media reporting.

“The moment people inform themselves about things that have been going on, for example with the NSA scandal, and then want to report on it and are muzzled, for me that means the freedom of the press is compromised. I wish people would take more of an interest in what media are allowed to report on at all and in things that are important beyond what the media can report by law and that we should find out about,” she said.

German media said it was the first time in more than 50 years that journalists had faced treason charges. In 1962, 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.