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Russia's rights council offers to help expelled Guardian journalist

Mikhail FedotovMOSCOW, February 8 (RIA Novosti)-Russia's presidential council for human rights is ready to examine the case of a Moscow correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian who was expelled from the country, the council's head said on Tuesday.

Luke Harding, 42, was refused reentry to Russia at Moscow's Domodedovo airport on Saturday after a two-month absence from the country. No explanation was given, although Harding said he was told "For you, Russia is closed," by a border official.

His visa was annulled and he was put on a plane back to Britain.

"We do not know yet why his visa was canceled," council head Mikhail Fedotov told RIA Novosti by phone. "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 OSCE and we should fulfill this obligation," he went on. "Of course, there are issues of national security to take into account."

The presidential council "always tries to help journalists in such situations," Fedotov also said, adding however that The Guardian has first to ask for help. He stressed however that the council could only request that the case be reviewed.

Harding had fallen foul of the Russian authorities on a number of occasions and was briefly detained while reporting last year from the volatile North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia. He also wrote up The Guardian's reports of the WikiLeaks cables, including allegations that Russia under the rule of Vladimir Putin has become a "virtual mafia state". Harding also filed a number of articles on Putin's alleged $40 billion offshore account.

A RIA Novosti source in a Russian law enforcement agency said Harding was blacklisted as a person whose presence in the country was "undesirable."

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