(PRAGUE/WASHINGTON, D.C) Despite routine harrassment and abuse from Iranian authorities and a dangerous security situation for journalists in Iraq, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's (RFE/RL) Persian and Iraqi Services have survived and thrived since they first went on the air ten years ago today.
"That we have millions of dedicated listeners in Iran and Iraq is a testament to the high-quality journalism of our reporters," says RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin. "They work at great risk to themselves in order to bring uncensored news and information to people in Iran and Iraq. Many RFE/RL journalists have been harrassed or arrested, some have been killed."
In Iran, RFE/RL's Persian-language Service, Radio Farda ("Tomorrow"), is the most popular international radio broadcaster, on the air and online 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week, broadcasting political, cultural, and economic news as well as sports and Western and Persian music. In July, Radio Farda's management was consolidated under RFE/RL, which had been jointly operated by RFE/RL and the Voice of America (VOA) since 2002.
"Twenty eight years after the revolution in Iran, there's finally an outlet that brings the voices of young Iranians to those who need to hear them," says Ahmed from Tehran via SMS text message.
The Iranian government makes frequent attempts at jamming Radio Farda's signal, blocking its Internet address and interfering with SMS service. In March, authorities sentenced Radio Farda journalist Parnaz (Nazy) Azima to a year in prison in absentia for "anti-government propaganda."
In Iraq, Radio Free Iraq (RFI) is on the air 17 hours-a-day and enjoys widespread admiration for its even-handed, professional approach to the issues.
"RFI is sensitive to the interests of all the different ethnic and religious Iraqi groups," says a 37-year male healthcare worker from Basra. "The professional demeanor and tone of the RFI reporters, I can say frankly, is the reason I listen to the station," says a 38 year-old female primary school teacher from Baghdad.
When Radio Free Iraq went on the air in 1998 during Saddam Hussein's rule, the Arabic-language station had about 10 staff members, all based in RFE/RL's Prague headquarters. Today, after the fall of Saddam, RFI operates a Baghdad bureau and has almost two dozen journalists working throughout the country.
Tragically, two RFI journalists were killed on the job and another was abducted. In April 2007, Khamail Muhsin Khalaf, a 50 year-old former Iraqi TV anchor and mother of three, was abducted and killed in Western Baghdad. One month later, Nazar Abdulwahid Al-Radhi, a 37 year-old correspondent for RFE/RL and father of four, was shot and killed in the southern Iraqi town of Al-Amarah. And in October 2007, RFI reporter Jumana Al-Obaidi was kidnapped, held for 11 days and eventually released after intense negotiations aided by the U.S., Iraqi, and Czech governments.