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Iranian-born Journalist Wins Award for Press Freedom Advocacy


Ahmad Rafat receives prize dedicated to reporter slain in Somalia

Ahmad Rafat, honored for his work for press freedom and human rights, holds the Ilaria Alpi award

Washington -- Iranian-born journalist Ahmad Rafat, now a well-known reporter based in Italy, has been honored for his more than 30 years of work advocating press freedom and exposing human rights abuses.

The 2008 Ilaria Alpi award was presented by the Italian chapter of Reporters Without Borders to Rafat at a June 7 ceremony in Riccione, Italy.

The prize, which recognizes courageous investigative reporting, was named for an Italian investigative journalist murdered while pursuing a story in Somalia in March 1994. The events leading to the murders of Alpi and her cameraman Miran Hrovatin in Somalia's capital of Mogadishu were dramatized in a 2003 movie called The Cruelest Day.

Rafat is a correspondent for a U.S.-backed station called Radio Farda, which broadcasts Persian-language news and information to Iran. He also hosts a show every Thursday for the Voice of America (VOA) that is broadcast to Iran, and serves as the deputy director for the Italian news agency Adnkronos International. (The word Farda translates as "tomorrow" in English.)

Rafat told that he was able to win the award in part because of the support he has received for his journalistic work from the board of governors of Radio Farda and the VOA. Radio Farda is a joint project of the VOA and the U.S.-funded international communications service, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic.

With his prize, said Rafat, comes a "responsibility" to continue "more than before to report on human rights abuses and to promote freedom of the press."

Rafat said he was pleasantly surprised to have been honored for his achievements. The ceremony's organizers invited him to the event in Riccione without telling him he would receive the prestigious award, which consists of a statue valued at about 2,000 euros ($3,068).

The journalist said he has received much international media attention recently, both for winning the award and for losing his press credentials. His credentials were confiscated and he was barred June 3 from covering a news conference by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the U.N. summit in Rome on world food security. Rafat later was admitted to the June 3-5 summit after Ahmadinejad left the news conference venue.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said Rafat is an "active advocate of media and human rights" who had reported extensively for Radio Farda on preparations for Ahmadinejad's visit to Rome.

The Brussels, Belgium-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said in a June 3 statement that Rafat was barred by U.N. officials from entering the food summit "apparently [due to] protests raised by Iranian officials."

The IFJ said it had urged U.N. agencies not to be "bullied" by any U.N. member state that attempts to prevent journalists from covering news events. The federation urged agencies "to stand up for media freedom and protect access" for the media.

The full text of the IFJ statement is available on the group's Web site.

About U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) engages international audiences on issues of foreign policy, society and values to help create an environment receptive to U.S. national interests.

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