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ITALY: JOURNALIST REFUSED ACCESS TO FOOD CRISIS SUMMIT

Adnkronos International - June 3, 2008 Ahmad Rafat, the deputy director of Adnkronos International, was banned from entering the United Nations-sponsored global food summit in Rome on Tuesday. Rafat, an Iranian-born journalist based in Rome, said he was declared 'persona non grata' when he arrived at the food summit being hosted by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. "I consider it very serious that Ahmadinejad's censorship can reach all the way to Rome, preventing a journalist with all the proper credentials, who heads an Italian news agency to carry out his job because he has negative opinions, as many Italians do, of a government that has shut down over 100 newspapers in two years and left over 1,000 journalists without work," Rafat told Adnkronos news agency. "It is very serious that FAO, an international organisation hosted by Italy, is an accomplice of a person and of a regime whom media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres has called the worst enemy of the media," said Rafat. Rafat, also executive member of the media rights group, Information, Safety & Freedom, launched an appeal a few days ago to raise awareness about Iran's repression of civil and human rights. When he asked why he was being stopped from entering the FAO headquarters, Rafat (photo) was told that the FAO had declared him "persona non grata". Sources from FAO security said that the decision was taken due to pressure by the Iranian delegation. Rafat said his media pass and accreditation credentials were confiscated. "I am sorry, but if they have taken away his accreditation, this does not depend on us, but rather Italian security," said FAO's communications department, Nick Parsonsil. Rafat, a highly respected journalist, has covered the Middle East and Balkans and reports extensively on Iran. Former Italian Minister for Trade, Emma Bonino, said the decision was "unacceptable". "Freedom of information is an inviolable right and it is not up to the delegation to choose which journalists they like," Bonino told Adnkronos. Italo Bocchino, vice-president of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom coalition in the Italy's lower house of Parliament, also criticised the move. "It is not a positive sign that the Iranian delegation is expressing judgements towards journalists who are doing their job and are covering countries where there are serious human rights problems," he told Adnkronos. Philip Willan, a British author and journalist based in Rome, said: "It seems very strange to me that FAO has declared a journalist 'persona non grata' for criticising human rights violations in Iran. "The Iranian president has just renewed his call for the destruction of Israel and the United States and he will not be seen by either the Pope nor the president of the Italian cabinet."





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