Guardian reporter expelled from Russia in cold war echo
Luke Harding, Moscow correspondent of Britain's Guardian newspaper, was told that 'Russia is closed to you.' Even in Soviet times, expulsions of international journalists was rare and usually connected with a diplomatic crisis.
(Page 3 of 3)
The head of the Kremlin's in-house human rights council, Mikhail Fedotov, told journalists Tuesday that he will review Harding's case.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"We do not know yet why his visa was canceled," Mr. Fedotov said. "There must have been some very serious reasons for that .... The creation of favorable visa conditions for journalists is an obligation accepted by all member states of the [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and we should fulfill this obligation.
"Of course, there are issues of national security to take into account," he added.
Veteran Russian human rights activist, Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, says Russian authorities appear to be reviving Soviet-era practices of blaming the messenger.
"Judging by this case, we might soon be left without any foreign correspondents," she says. "Even in Soviet times, Moscow always had foreign journalists here," even if they had to work under tough conditions, she says.
Foreign Ministry's explanation
Late Tuesday the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Harding was expelled for "violating the rules of accreditation," a process that Russian officials take seriously. "He violated a number of rules governing the work of foreign correspondents [that] were approved by the Russian government in 1994 and which all journalists are well familiar with," the ministry statement said.
Normally, journalists receive an accreditation card from the Foreign Ministry after providing proof that they represent a legitimate news outlet. The document is treated as official ID in Russia, and the journalist receives his visa on the basis of it. Visas are always issued for exactly the same period – usually one year – for which the accreditation is valid.
The ministry statement suggested that Harding had failed to renew his accreditation before leaving for a London assignment last November, but failed to explain how Harding held a visa that was valid until May.
Other officials, anonymously quoted in the Russian media, have said that Harding may have failed to obtain special security permission required to travel to the "zone of counter-terrorist operations" in the north Caucasus.
The Guardian responds
In a response e-mailed to Moscow-based journalists Tuesday night – adding to the confusion surrounding Harding's expulsion – the Guardian said: "We are baffled by the statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry today. We have still not received an adequate explanation of why Luke Harding was deported on arrival at Moscow airport on Saturday February 5th, despite having a valid visa. Failure to collect his press card before leaving urgently on a trip to London is manifestly not a plausible reason for detaining Luke at the airport and refusing him entry to Russia. This is part of a pattern of behavior by the Russian Foreign Ministry who first expelled Luke Harding in November 2010. That expulsion was partially delayed after intervention by the British government, but it was understood that Luke would have to leave by May 2011. We did not make this public at the time but it discredits attempts to portray this week's expulsion as an administrative error."