How are whistleblowers protected

Law is designed to protect whistleblowers"You will not be spared from anything"

Martin Porwoll is the commercial director of a medium-sized company. Until 2016. Then almost everything will change. Porwoll files a complaint against his employer: a Bottrop pharmacist who produces and sells cancer drugs in significantly underdosed quantities.

"At first you believe or think you are in some way or other well prepared, because you have already declined different things, what can happen," says Porwoll. And that includes the likelihood of losing your own job - which is exactly what happens.

From now on, the media will call the economist "whistleblower". His former boss, the pharmacist, was sentenced to a long prison term a year and a half later. For himself the most difficult time begins immediately.

The whistleblower would like more recognition

"You are not spared anything, and it is always twice as hard as you think. And precisely that there is absolutely nothing that would make it easier for people like me, or - you even want incentives not speaking - just a certain appreciation of what you've done: there's nothing there. "

(dpa / Facundo Arrizabalaga / epa) Julian Assange is not a whistleblower himself, but published material from whistleblowers on the platform he founded, Wikileaks. In 2010 he published almost 400,000 previously secret documents of the US military, which the soldier Chelsea Manning had given him. After taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in Great Britain for almost seven years, Assange is now in a London prison. If extradited to the USA, he faces 175 years imprisonment for espionage and computer abuse. Observers warn that his health is very bad.

In Germany, people who take action against their employer had a long hard time. As recently as 2011, Volker Kauder, head of the CDU / CSU parliamentary group at the time, compared whistleblowers with "block waiting" - a term that also had a historically negative connotation. To this day, there is still no individual right that protects them.

The law must be ready by the end of 2021

But that is about to change: The German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht recently announced in an interview with the Funke media group that she would soon be submitting a corresponding draft law. The SPD politician is reacting to a requirement of the EU Commission: By the end of 2021, all member states must implement a directive that was passed last year.

(dpa / Frank M├Ąchler)Whistleblower - indispensable
For some they are heroes, for others traitors: Without whistleblowers who pass on internal documents, scandals would not reach the public. But not a few whistleblowers get caught up in the process themselves.

"It was foreseeable that the Justice Minister would want to go beyond the EU directive and also include German legal violations and other things," says Simon Gerdemann. The legal scholar did his doctorate on the subject of whistleblowing and last year prepared an opinion for the German Trade Union Confederation on the EU directive.

"It only applies if whistleblowers report violations of certain Union law, because only that could be regulated by European law. All other violations and all other abuses, for example serious crimes, be it human rights violations, violent or sexual offenses, are not recorded . "

Is only the disclosure of criminal offenses worthy of protection?

European law does not cover all possibilities by a long way. According to Gerdemann, law and politics are now largely in agreement that a separate German law is overdue. What remains controversial, however, is precisely which grievances whistleblowers are allowed to uncover - and for what they should then be protected.

"The classic view, if you will, says that the only thing that needs to be discovered is violations of the law, especially criminal offenses. Whistleblowers only deserve protection if something like this is discovered."

The most prominent example of this view is Edward Snowden. Because the surveillance practices of the secret services that he uncovered were not illegal under US law.

(Deutschlandradio / Jens Becker) In 2013, the former US secret service employee played Edward Snowden several media documents proving the massive surveillance by US intelligence agencies. The whistleblower then fled to Russia, where he has since received unlimited asylum. In his home country, he faces a trial for treason and espionage and a long prison term. US President Donald Trump had issued a pardon in August. The Dlf interviewed Snowden in 2019.

Gerdemann says: "I think that is also an essential function of whistleblowing. And that is why whistleblowers should also be protected if they discover grievances that are significant but do not formally violate the law."

Law could facilitate journalistic research

The announced SPD draft provides for that. And Lambrecht is under time pressure: Due to EU requirements and the end of the legislative period, both in just over a year, she will soon have to convince Union Interior Minister Seehofer of her plans. The new law would also have consequences for journalism, emphasizes lawyer Gerdemann:

"As soon as there are significant legal violations, criminal offenses or other irregularities, it is possible with a corresponding law to tell the informant: Even if your identity should be revealed, you must not be subject to reprisals for the exposures that you have made become."

In 2013 demonstrators in Berlin demonstrated solidarity with whistleblower Edward Snowden (imago images / IPON)

Whistleblower Martin Porwoll welcomes the fact that, after years of political blockade, something is happening in Germany too: "Basically, a little is always better than nothing."

But the 49-year-old, who is now involved in the NGO whistleblower network, would like even more protection in the long term. The diesel scandal, the "Cum-Ex" business affair and, most recently, Wirecard - it is shown again and again, according to Porwoll, how important it would be if someone in the company sounded the alarm early on. Just like he did four years ago.