'Russian service' demanded journalist's expulsion: report

8th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

A branch of the Russian security services specifically demanded that the Guardian's Moscow correspondent be barred from entering the country, a report said Monday.

Luke Harding was expelled from Russia after reporting claims in US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks that the country had become a "mafia state", the paper announced.

"Harding was not allowed to enter Russian territory on the demand of one of the Russian (security) structures," a security source told the state-run RIA Novosti agency, saying his name was on a list of undesirable persons.

The source did not specify further but the comment indicated the demand may have come from the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) or the Federal Security Service (FSB).

The source did not explain why Harding was deemed undesirable.

The Russian foreign ministry has yet to give an explanation for the expulsion, which the Guardian said is believed to be the first removal of a British staff journalist from the country since the end of the Cold War.

Harding flew back to the Russian capital at the weekend after two months in London reporting on the contents of the US cables, given to his paper by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

But he was refused entry when his passport was checked on arrival and after 45 minutes in an airport cell was sent back to Britain on the next available plane, according to the Guardian.

Harding's expulsion follows his reporting in December on assessments of modern Russia from the US cables, which listed a string of damaging allegations about the links between top officials, oligarchs and organised crime.

A Spanish prosecutor was quoted describing Russia as a "mafia state", while a top US official was cited questioning whether Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin knew beforehand about a plot to kill dissident Alexander Litvinenko.

Harding also coauthored a book, "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy", lifting the lid on the paper's publication of the confidential documents.

© 2011 AFP

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