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Afghan govt. hits criticism of writer's expulsion.

Byline: Rod Nordland

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Afghan government lashed out Thursday at criticism of its expulsion of an American journalist, the first such action since the ouster of the Taliban, denouncing him as a spy in an official statement.

Both the U.S. ambassador and the top U.N. representative here sharply criticized the Afghan government's expulsion of the journalist, New York Times correspondent Matthew Rosenberg, 40, who left Kabul on Thursday, within a 24 hour deadline imposed by the Afghan attorney general's office. The order came after an article written by Rosenberg, published Tuesday, reported on efforts by some officials to resolve an electoral crisis.

In an apparent response to the public condemnations, the Government Media and Information Center, an agency controlled by the president's office, issued a statement saying that it "considers Mr. Rosenberg's report more of an espionage act than a journalistic work, one that was meant to create panic and disruption in people's minds, and provide the basis for other spying purposes.''

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The New York Times, who has strongly protested the expulsion order, rejected the accusation against Rosenberg.

"I am outraged,'' Baquet said. "He is a reporter who breaks important stories.''

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, James B. Cunningham, met with President Hamid Karzai on Thursday and afterward issued a statement calling the expulsion a threat to the country's budding democratic system and a "regrettable step backward'' for its press freedom. It appeared that the ambassador did not ask Karzai to reverse the decision to expel Rosenberg.

But Cunningham's statement bluntly reflected U.S. anger with the Karzai government.

"I expressed today to President Karzai our strong concern about this unwarranted action,'' the ambassador's statement said. "I asked him to affirm his government's recognition of the importance of protecting the freedom of the press, as an important part of the legacy of his presidency.''

Earlier, Jan Kubis, the representative of the U.N. secretary-general, issued a statement that said the expulsion was "a disturbing disregard for freedom of expression'' and called on the Afghan government "to urgently review their actions in light of due process, domestic laws and the international obligations of Afghanistan to safeguard media freedoms in the country.''

The action against Rosenberg was the first public expulsion of a Western journalist in Afghanistan since the Taliban was felled in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. It came as the Afghan government is mired in a crisis over a disputed presidential election and as the United States is preparing to withdraw military forces at the end of this year.

The government apparently was infuriated by Rosenberg's article on the electoral crisis, which reported discussions among high-ranking officials about forming an interim governing committee as a possible way to resolve the impasse, a step that would amount to a coup. The Afghan attorney general's office said in a statement that the article was "considered divisive and contrary to the national interest, security and stability of Afghanistan.''

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Author:Nordland, Rod
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:Aug 22, 2014
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