KABUL — The attorney general of Afghanistan on Wednesday ordered the expulsion of an American correspondent for The New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg, and banned him from re-entering the country.
The action, the first public expulsion of a Western journalist since the Taliban regime was in power, came less than a day after the office of the attorney general, Mohammad Ishaq Aloko, issued an order prohibiting Rosenberg from leaving the country while he was under investigation.
Both orders related to an article written by Rosenberg, published Tuesday by the Times, that said high-ranking government officials were discussing forming an interim government as a possible resolution to the country’s electoral crisis — an action that would effectively amount to a coup.
Aloko’s office on Wednesday released a statement to news organizations — not including the Times — that accused Rosenberg of writing an “article that is considered divisive and contrary to the national interest, security and stability of Afghanistan.” The statement said the “Attorney General decided that Matthew Rosenberg should leave the country within the next 24 hours and he will not be allowed to re-enter the country.”
The statement suggested that Rosenberg, 40, had presented his opinion in the article while “falsely attributing it to high-level government officials.” The article was based on high-ranking Afghan government sources, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of prosecution for sedition if their names were used, as Rosenberg noted in the article.
A statement issued by the office of President Hamid Karzai, while not mentioning the expulsion, quoted the president as telling the head of the United Nations here, Jan Kubis, that a recent article in The New York Times “showed foreign interference and conspiracy in order to destabilize Afghanistan.”
“This kind of article should not be allowed,” the statement read.
Aloko’s statement did not specify what, if any, laws had been broken, or what legal grounds there might be for such an expulsion, which is unprecedented in the 13 years of the government of Karzai. The government did cancel the visa of a Reuters correspondent for nearly a year, but both Reuters and the Afghan government kept that development secret and it was later rescinded.
The attorney general’s statement said the decision had been made because Rosenberg “didn’t cooperate well during the interrogations” carried out by the attorney general’s office Tuesday.
Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the Times, criticized the Afghan government’s action.
“Matt is a terrific reporter who reported an accurate story,” Baquet said. “He was perfectly willing to talk to the Afghan government but obviously wasn’t going to reveal his sources.” He said Rosenberg would continue to report on Afghanistan and that “we’re appalled that a government would kick a reporter out for doing his job.”
After Rosenberg was summoned by the attorney general’s office for what officials said would be an “informal chat” Tuesday, officials there insisted that he sign a formal statement. At that point he asked for the right to have a lawyer present during any further discussions, agreeing to come back when he had such representation.
Rosenberg objected to the attorney general’s suggestion that his story was concocted to cause dissension in the country.
“The story is based on numerous sources both on and off the record and as yet no government official has challenged the accuracy of it,” Rosenberg said.
Sadat asked Rosenberg to divulge the confidential sources cited in his article, and asked what proof there was that he had not invented them. Rosenberg declined to name them and noted that editors at the Times have internal checks on the use of sources and have to be satisfied that they are legitimate before publication.