New York, February 8, 2011--The Committee to Protect
Journalists called on Russian authorities today to allow Luke Harding, Moscow
correspondent for the U.K. Guardian, to
return to Russia and resume his work. Harding, at left, was refused entry to Russia on
The journalist had temporarily returned to London in the
fall to report on U.S. diplomatic cables released to the Guardian by WikiLeaks.
He tried to re-enter the country on a valid visa, but was turned down at Moscow's
Domodedovo International Airport, Harding told CPJ. A guard seized his passport
and led him to a detention unit. He told the journalist: "Access to Russia is
closed to you," without further explanation, Harding said.
Harding had been stationed in Moscow
since January 2007, covering subjects ranging from official corruption and
anti-terrorist operations in the North Caucasus, to the poisoning death of
former Russian spy Aleksandr Litvinenko and Russia's Federal Security Service
(FSB). While in London, Harding covered the
Russia-related leaked U.S.
diplomatic cables, which described Kremlin officials in unflattering terms.
Days before Harding was refused access to Russia,
on WikiLeaks he co-authored with another Guardian journalist was released in the United Kingdom.
"This action sends a disturbing message for all
international journalists covering Russia," said CPJ Europe and
Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova.
"We call for the authorities to allow Luke Harding to return to Moscow immediately."
After less than an hour in detention, Harding was placed on
a London-bound plane. His Russian visa, valid until May, was stamped "annulled."
Since Harding's deportation, the Guardian
has been unsuccessfully trying to obtain an explanation from Russia's
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for granting permits to
"The incident with my deportation is part of a more general
and ongoing squeeze on international reporters working in Russia," Harding told CPJ. "It is
part of a move to get the truth-tellers out of the country."
Today, the ministry issued a statement
saying that Harding had "violated the rules regulating the work of
international correspondents," and claiming he had "knowingly" left the country
without awaiting receipt of his renewed press accreditation. But the ministry had
approved the journalist's visa two months prior, Harding said.
CPJ has documented other
incidents of international journalists' expulsion or denial of entry to Russia. In June
2008, British freelance journalist Simon Pirani,
who has worked in Russia as
a reporter and academic researcher regularly since 1990, was sent back to the U.K. The
Russian Embassy in London
later explained to him in an e-mail that his ban was "necessary for the purpose
of protecting the defense capability and security of the state or the social
order, or for the protection of the public health." The same explanation was
used for the December 2007 expulsion of Moldovan journalist Natalya
Morar, then an investigative reporter with the Moscow-based independent
newsweekly The New Times. Yet another British journalist--Thomas
de Waal of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting--had his
application for a Russia visa denied in July 2006; the Federal Migration
Service in Moscow cited the same security law as the reason.