German Digital Rights Pioneers Investigated for Treason

Markus Beckedahl in 2014. Photo by Agnieszka Krolik via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Markus Beckedahl at a Wikimedia Salon event in 2014. Photo by Agnieszka Krolik via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Leading digital rights advocates and bloggers Markus Beckedahl and Andre Meister, along with an “unknown party,” are being investigated for treason for allegedly having leaked documents detailing Germany's plans to expand domestic Internet surveillance earlier this year.

The bloggers received an official letter from Germany's Federal Attorney General informing them that he had “initiated a criminal investigation on suspicion of treason against [the accused] on the basis of §§ 94 Abs. 1 Nr. 2, 25 Abs. 2, 53 German Criminal Code, due to criminal charges by the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution.”

Netzpolitik.org is a critical german investigative blog with more than 30 authors who report mainly on issues concerning Internet surveillance and privacy since 2004. The website was awarded with the well-known Grimme Online Award in 2014. Beckedahl is also a founding director of the popular annual Re:Publica conference in Berlin, which focuses on digital rights and culture.

On their website, netzpolitik.org announced:

Today, we received a letter from the Federal Attorney General of Germany confirming ongoing investigations against our reporters Markus Beckedahl, Andre Meister and an “unknown” source, suspecting us of treason according to the German Penal Code.

In their statement, netzpolitik.org condemned the investigations as an attack on press freedom:

From the very beginning, the charges against our alleged source(s) were politically motivated and targeted to crush the necessary public debate about internet surveillance Post-Snowden. Whistleblowers in the public interest need protection, not prosecution for “treason”. Investigating the acclaimed media outlet netzpolitik.org as accomplices in treason charges is a direct attack on freedom of the press, which we thought was outlawed with the Constitutional Court ruling in the Cicero case 2007.

The last time such charges were brought against a journalist in Germany was in 1962, when the editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel was accused of treason for publishing secret documents about the German defense forces.

The netzpolitik.org bloggers have stated clearly that they will not be intimidated by the investigations and that their independent and critical journalism will continue:

The Federal Attorney General needs to drop the investigations against us and our alleged source(s) and instead investigate and charge the out-of-control secret services that are expanding their mass surveillance without public debate.

The investigation of netzpolitik.org has led to an uproar in mainstream and social media. #Landesverrat (#treason) immediately trended in Germany with many users expressing concern about the investigations.

#Landesverrat framed next to the Grimme Online Award and “Journalist of the Year 2014″.

You could also call it #Landesverrat when citizens are under mass surveillance. You could.

“Punish one, discipline hundreds.”

The investigation was also sharply criticized by the German Press Association. Michael Konken, Chairman of the German Journalists Association stated: “The investigations against the two journalists show, that the head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution has not learnt anything concerning freedom of speech,” arguing that bloggers had simply delivered the information that is in the public interest and that the public is entitled to know. He has urged the Federal Attorney General to stop the investigation immediately.

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