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UN apologises to Iranian journalist for FAO ban on entry to food summit

Ahmadinejad: Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a UN crisis summit on rising food prices at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome.Photo: Reuters/Christophe Simon/Pool

The United Nations has apologised to an Iranian journalist who was barred from a food summit in Rome following opposition from the Islamic state whose president was among participants, agencies have reported.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Wednesday that it was sorry after the incident involving Ahmad Rafat, an Iranian who works for the Italian news agency ADN-Kronos, Agence France-Presse (AFP) has reported.

"I hope Ahmad Rafat will accept the apologies of the organisation and myself following this incident," said FAO communications official Nick Parsons in a statement.

Rafat was accredited for the three-day summit, but when he tried to enter Tuesday his accreditation was seized and he was told he was considered "a person not desired by Iranian authorities," his agency reported. A few hours later Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the summit's opening day and gave a press conference, the AFP report said.

FAO, according to an AKI report, said the decision to block Rafat's entry had been made by Italian security officials. But the government rejected the suggestion, saying all media accreditation was up to FAO. Later in the day, the office of the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said in a statement that accreditation for the three-day event had nothing to do with the Italian government. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini also reacted strongly to the ban and asked Italy's permanent representative to FAO, Pietro Sebastiani, to ask the organisation for an explanation.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) voiced concern over the incident, describing Rafat as a "highly respected journalist" who has covered the Middle-East and the Balkans and reports extensively on Iran.

IFJ said the incident was the second case involving journalists being barred from major UN events in recent weeks. Journalists from Taiwan were barred from the World Health Assembly last month in Geneva after a UN prohibition put on Taiwanese media at the behest of China, IFJ Secretary-General Aidan White said in a statement. "The UN agencies must not be used as the battleground for member states to victimise journalists they don't like," he said. "The UN should be providing models of pluralism and respect for media freedom," he added.

Earlier, Giuseppe Marra, director and editor of AKI had said, "Ahmad Rafat is not only a great journalist of Iranian origin, and member of the Italian professional order of journalists, but above all he is a sincere and relentless democrat. Proof of that is that Rafat practises his profession in Italy and not in a country where current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to wipe Israel off the map and where the Foreign Minister, Manoucher Mottaki, said only the day before yesterday 'if every Muslim poured a glass of water, Israel would drown and disappear'."

Date posted: June 5, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 583