Munich prosecutor August Stern yesterday suspended an investigation into four journalists for “complicity in the divulging of state secrets.” He said they had a legitimate right not to want to identify the civil servants who leaked the information to them.
“We welcome this first step, and call for similar decisions to be taken with the 13 other journalists, as this is the only appropriate course in a democracy such as Germany’s”, Reporters Without Borders said.
Other state prosecutors are continuing their investigations.
Judicial investigations into 17 journalists because of leaks
Reporters Without Borders learned with concern today that prosecutors in Berlin, Munich and Hamburg and other German cities are investigating 17 journalists in connection with the leaking of confidential documents from a parliamentary commission that is looking into the activities of the German domestic intelligence service, the BND, in the fight against terrorism.
“We are worried by the fact that the work of a large number of journalists working for the Berliner Zeitung, Die Zeit, Die Welt, Der Spiegel, Süddeutsche Zeitung and other media is being called into question,” the press freedom organisation said. “These journalists should under no circumstances be treated like criminals.”
Reporters Without Borders continued: “It is the duty of the media to investigate and report all news and information of general interest. This is why it is fundamental that the confidentiality of sources, one of the pillars of investigative journalism and press freedom, should be effectively protected by the legislature.
“We are all the more surprised by this decision as the German constitutional court in February condemned a search of the magazine Cicero that was carried out after it published leaked confidential information. The court pointed out that press freedom is enshrined in the constitution and that it ruled that ‘searches and seizures in an investigation against members of the press are illegal if their sole or main aim is to identify a source.’
“At the time, Reporters Without Borders had proposed that article 353b of the criminal code concerning ‘complicity in divulging a state secret’ should not apply to journalists.”
According to the Association of German Journalists (DJV), there have been a total of 180 legal proceedings against journalists for “complicity in betraying a state secret” since 1986.