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Critics hunt fresh scalps in 'treason' scandal

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Critics hunt fresh scalps in 'treason' scandal
Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister of digital rights blog Netzpolitik.org with a prize they were awarded on Wednesday. Photo: DPA
09:47 CEST+02:00
Politicians, the media and ordinary citizens were pointing fingers in all directions on Wednesday, seeking a fresh target to take the blame for a treason investigation against blog Netzpolitik (net politics) after the government forced Germany's chief prosecutor to step down.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) Justice Minister Heiko Maas can't rest easy despite his decision on Tuesday to fire Harald Range, the chief prosecutor who launched a treason probe against two journalists at the blog for publishing stories based on classified information.

Opposition politicians, joined by some members of Maas' coalition allies in Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, accuse Maas of reacting too late and too extremely to Range's move against the publication.

"I can't accept the behaviour of Minister Maas," CDU Berlin justice senator Thomas Heilmann told the Rheinische Post on Thursday.

"Either he understands himself as the supervising authority over the state prosecutors, in which case he should have already intervened two months ago, or he is, like me, of the opinion that politicians can't decide on political criminal investigations, in which case he shouldn't have been allowed to intervene."

Meanwhile, there were calls for Hans-Georg Maaßen, the head of the Office for the Protection of the Consitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, VS) to be shown the door as well.

"The dismissal of the VS president Hans-Georg Maaßen is overdue. He was the one who launched the whole treason affair with his charges," Left Party (Linke) chairman Bend Riexinger told Handelsblatt.

Free Democratic Party (FDP) leader Christian Lindner told DPA that "Herr Maaßen apparently did this [launched the treason investigation] because he doesn't have his agency under control and because he wanted to intimidate journalists - or at least, he gladly accepted the intimidating effect it would have on journalists."

Maaßen's attempts to stop up leaks at the VS and identify the journalists' sources ultimately led him to ask Range for help and the launching of the official treason investigation at the federal prosecutors' office.

Digital rights blog Netzpolitik has closely followed the unraveling of details about the German government's links to the US National Security Agency's spying programme, minutely detailing the hearings of a German parliamentary inquiry.

The federal investigation of the blog related to a 2013 document Netzpolitik published on February 25th which lays out the VS's plans to collect mass data from social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in order to "make connections that are until now unknown."

The article also reveals the secret budget allocated for the programme as being €2.75 million.

A second document, published on April 15th, relates to a unit being set up by the BfV named the "Extended Specialist Support Internet" unit which aims to extend the security agency's ability to eavesdrop on social media.

The document designates 75 security operatives to spy on online chats on Facebook.

The federal investigation has only led to Netzpolitik emerging from the affair stronger than ever, even receiving a prize naming them an "outstanding site" whose founders have "been engaged for an open internet and the digital rights of citizens for more than ten years".

The name of the organization awarding the prize? "Deutschland – Land der Ideen" (Germany, land of ideas), a project of the federal government.

"We think that what they're doing is completely something that's important for society," project leader Ariane Derks said on Wednesday in Berlin.

SEE ALSO: Merkel's office hunted journalists' sources

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