Expelled Guardian journalist returns to Russia

A British journalist whose expulsion from Russia caused a diplomatic spat has returned to Moscow.

Guardian correspondent Luke Harding was deported when he arrived at a Moscow airport earlier this month, even though he had a valid visa.

Thee journalist was returning from London where he had been working on the WikiLeaks cables.

A Guardian News & Media spokesman said last night it was not clear if Harding was being allowed back indefinitely or would be expelled when his press card runs out.

He was apparently given back the card on arrival at the airport with the words: “You forgot this.”

The GNM spokesman said: “Luke Harding, the Guardian’s Moscow correspondent, has returned to Moscow after the Russian authorities reversed their earlier decision to refuse him entry on February 5.

“Luke’s press card – which expires on May 31 – was returned to him at Moscow airport on February 12.

“Luke was first informed that his accreditation would be withdrawn in November last year and he was told to leave the country by the end of December.

“After protests from the British Government, the Russian foreign ministry extended his permission to stay until the end of May 2011.

“It is still not clear whether Luke is being allowed in indefinitely or is still being expelled in 15 weeks’ time. The Guardian is seeking urgent clarification on this.”

Harding tweeted: “Yes, I’m back in Moscow.”

A statement posted on the Russian foreign ministry’s website last week claimed Harding had “committed a whole series of breaches of the rules governing the work of foreign correspondents”.

But it added: “If Harding remains interested in working in Russia during the period covered by his existing entry visa, then he needs to resolve the issues relating to his accreditation, by contacting the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ information and press department.

“Provided that he observes these rules, which are the same for all foreign correspondents, Harding will not experience any problems with entering the Russian Federation.”

Foreign Office minister David Lidington has said the Government “deplores” restrictions on the media in Russia.

He said last week: “A free media and freedom of expression is a vital element of any free and democratic society and the Government deplores any restriction on those freedoms.”

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