Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas has fired the country’s top prosecutor, Harald Range, over the latter’s handling of the Netzpolitik.org “treason” investigation, turning what began as a battle over blogs, whistleblowing and freedom of the press, into a full-blown political crisis. As the Deutsche Welle website reports, the dismissal was framed as an “early retirement.” Maas said: “I have told Federal Prosecutor Range that my trust in his ability to fulfil the office has suffered lasting damage and therefore in agreement with the Chancellery I will request his retirement today.”
On Sunday, Ars reported that Range was pausing the investigation. That was partly as a result of the growing public outcry over the suggestion that two journalists at Netzpolitik.org had committed treason for publishing leaks about Germany’s surveillance plans, but also because of growing political pressure. Last week, Maas indicated to Range that he doubted that publishing the leaked documents on Netzpolitik.org constituted treason. Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said on Monday that she gave her “full support” to the Justice Minister, while refusing to say whether she still had confidence in Range—effectively siding with Maas.
Yesterday, Range hit back, accusing Maas of “an intolerable encroachment on the independence of the judiciary.” AFP reported him as saying: “The freedom of the press and of expression is a valuable asset. But this freedom, including on the Internet, is not limitless. It does not absolve journalists of the duty to comply with the law.” This framing turned the “treason” affair into an open battle between the German state and its judiciary, but with Merkel’s public support, Maas evidently felt in a strong enough position to remove Range without further discussion.
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