Two German journalists charged with treason over the publishing of German security documents online have been acquitted and their prosecutor given the boot. In a bold step to safeguard individual civil liberties, the European nation’s justice ministry is leading the way for other developed nations in civil liberties protection.
Andre Meister and Markus Beckedahl, both editors at Netzpolitik.org, were being investigated for leaking information pertaining to national surveillance plans.
Last week, the justice ministry acquitted both journalists saying it did not believe their publications put Germany in such danger as to warrant a treason charge.
The first publication was done in February and uncovered a multi-million dollar project by German authorities to process online data sets. The second was done in April and exposed plans to have a 75-man unit monitor Twitter and Facebook chats, as well as other forms of communication.
Their arrest followed a complaint by Germany’s domestic spy service, the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution (Bfv). Beckedahl had challenged them to answer for their involvement.
Following their arrest, an uproar among the German community sprung. On Saturday, 2000 people marched to advocate for their immediate release. Donations of up to 100,000 also poured into the organization’s account to advocate for the two’s release. Eventually, the authorities caved in.
Elated with their release, Beckedahl said, “It looks like we have been the real winners. With the donations we have received we can build up our editorial team, hire more journalists and cover more surveillance issues.”
Justice Minister Heiko Maans announced their release while making public the Federal Prosecutor’s exit. He said, “The departure of Harald Range is a first step, but he is not the main person responsible. The BfV is the one that went after us. We want to know who is responsible politically. They have been investigating for two and a half months and none of the executive claims to know about it. Either the government is full of incompetent people, which I can’t really believe, or there is a cover-up.”
Beckedahl and Meister are now wondering whether their release means they are still under surveillance from the Bfv.
Beckedhl said, “We don’t know if that means we are under surveillance or not – although we have to assume we are. We have retained lawyers who have requested all the relevant documentation. Sooner or later we expect that the investigation against Markus and me will be dropped. It is also our demand that any investigation against our sources are dropped as well.”
Germany has taken an important step in ensuring civil liberties are protected by the law and that the justice department is not specifically targeting media outlets out to find the truth. The ruling is an affirmation that individual rights to privacy are as important as the people’s right to information.