(Prague, Czech Republic -- June 3, 2008) Italian authorities denied Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reporter Ahmad Rafat admission to the UN Food Summit in Rome today and declared him 'persona non grata.' Mr. Rafat's recent reports on Radio Farda - which broadcasts Persian-language news and information to Iran - have focused on the controversy surrounding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's trip to Italy. Rafat has interviewed numerous critics of the Iranian President and has exposed the reluctance of many Italian officials, including the Pope, to meet with Ahmadinejad.
"Someone must be afraid of upsetting the Iranian President," Rafat said after being stopped at a security gate by Italian police who demanded he surrender his accreditation and other documents. "What other explanation could there be? I am an Italian citizen who's worked here for years and have never had any such problems. The Iranian people need to hear the unbiased truth about how unpopular their leaders are abroad."
RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin is expressing concern about the incident: "We are disappointed at the designation of any professional, accredited journalist anywhere as 'persona non grata.' We are particularly concerned that this could be possible at a UN-sponsored conference convened in Italy and insist that Mr. Rafat be admitted to the conference with all rights and privileges intact."
Mr. Rafat is deputy director of the Italian news agency Adnkronos International and a reporter with RFE/RL's Radio Farda. Radio Farda, an RFE/RL joint venture with the Voice of America, broadcasts in Persian to Iran 24 hours a day, seven days a week.