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Journalist denied entry to UN-sponsored summit; Zimbabwean president welcome despite press freedom record

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 3 June 2008 IFJ media release:

Mugabe In, Journalist Out: IFJ Slams New UN Ban on Media

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today urged the United Nations agencies being bullied by member states to deny access to journalists to stand up for media freedom and protect access to media at all agency meetings.

In what appears to be the latest case of a member state's push to ban a journalist, Ahmad Rafat, the deputy director of Adnkronos International, was banned from entering the United Nations-sponsored global food summit in Rome today. Rafat, a highly respected journalist, has covered the Middle East and Balkans and reports extensively on Iran.

He was barred by UN officials from entering the meeting apparently by protests raised by Iranian officials. The IFJ is concerned that this ban is the second time that journalists have been barred from attending major UN conferences in recent weeks.

Journalists from Taiwan were barred from the World Health Assembly last month in Geneva following a UN prohibition put on Taiwanese media at the behest of China.

"The UN agencies must not be used as the battleground for member states to victimise journalists they don't like," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "The UN should be providing models of pluralism and respect for media freedom."

The IFJ is additionally concerned that the UN gives the impression that its attachment to human rights protection is weakening. The controversy over the welcome given to Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, himself a serial offender in violation of media rights, has raised concerns that the UN's role as a defender of human rights is in jeopardy.

"It is astonishing that a leader who has compromised human rights like Robert Mugabe is welcomed, but a journalist trying to do his job is blocked at the door," said White.

The IFJ says that access to all UN summits and events should be granted in line with Article 19 of the UN's own Universal Declaration of Human Rights that highlights the "freedom to . . . seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Rafat, an Iranian-born journalist based in Rome, said he was declared 'persona non grata' when he arrived at the food summit today being hosted by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Sources from FAO security said that the decision was taken due to pressure by the Iranian delegation, according to an Adnkronos report.

Rafat said his media pass and accreditation credentials were confiscated. FAO spokesman Nick Parsonsil told the agency that Italian security was responsible for the confiscation.

The IFJ is calling for a full investigation into the latest incident and for a statement form UN HQ that there will be no further discrimination at future conferences.

"The United Nations has an agency, UNESCO, which is committed to the defence of media freedom and now we have two other agencies in less than a month apparently undermining the work of UNESCO and the UN Charter," White said. "What we need now is a clear and emphatic reaffirmation that journalists will be free to report UN affairs without political interference."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide.

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