Botswana’s president says a diplomat who admitted to plagiarism must leave the country

Botswana’s president on Tuesday directed three African diplomats who have been accused of plagiarism to leave the country — including one who said she was on a trip to Europe as recently as November.

“One of them was still in Vienna. She has confirmed this to me,” said President Ian Khama, referring to a delegation from Botswana’s Foreign Ministry, including her. “Let us say what we are getting from the media, not from WikiLeaks.”

Khama was responding to a recent WikiLeaks document, which, according to the Guardian, is dated Nov. 29, showing a hotel receipt that reads: “Botswana Charge D’Affaires Carina Knezevic, residence in Vienna – exactly 6:20am.”

Knezevic told the Independent in Johannesburg that the receipt was likely an accidental printing error and was not an indication that she had been involved in plagiarism.

Several journalists who have covered the news in Botswana over the past year have pointed to this accusation as the same one Wikileaks made in the September interview of Julian Assange. Wikileaks was praised by many press freedom supporters for its work on exposing journalists who were committing “puppet journalism” at state levels around the world. Wikileaks confirmed that the hotel receipt came from Khama’s government.

Among the WikiLeaks document, dated Nov. 29, is a company transcription note that says, “Botswana Charge D’Affaires Carina Knezevic, residence in Vienna – exactly 6:20am.” In the cable it says, “Please see above: Maybe Assange could apply for a role in the Nationalist Party.” The footnote on top of the email from Khama’s country, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Botswana, Craig Kirwan, was also linked to Knezevic by the editor of the Mail and Guardian in Botswana, Michael Hofmeyr.

The apology Khama offered Tuesday morning to these journalists, and to Guinean journalist Alhousseney Gbede from France, and to Hong Kong journalist Wang Huilian was printed by news outlets on Twitter.

For their part, the journalists called the apology inadequate.

“I am appalled by the blatant disrespect the president of my country has shown,” Hofmeyr tweeted.

Adam Spence of the Independent tweeted: “This is about the duty of government to protect freedom of speech and not to force you to resign for merely making mistakes. You’re no longer part of my paper after the two of you told me that emails showed that you attended parties and referred to WikiLeaks.”

Knezevic emailed The Washington Post from Botswana, saying she came to Khama’s office on Monday for the apology and that she had quit her job.

“However, as a result of the furore surrounding the letter, I have resigned,” she wrote in an email. “I had been looking forward to a challenging career. It has been an honour to work with people of such a caliber.”

The WikiLeaks document also cited what the U.S. embassy in Botswana had called another “startling story” about a “Botswana compatriot attending a State D’Affaires Dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.”

The Washington Post could not independently confirm any of the claims in the WikiLeaks document.

Botswana’s integrity commission would not comment to the Post. The Foreign Ministry of Botswana said through its spokesman, Kirwan, in an email that it does not comment on the independence of its employees.

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