The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says two of its U.S. members are being detained by Russian authorities, and church officials are criticizing the move as disturbing and unwarranted.
Eric Hawkins, spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told Fox News the young men were serving as church volunteers in Novorossiyk, a port city in southern Russia. Hawkins said they have been detained since Friday, when they were taken from a meeting.
“While we are grateful these young men are reportedly in good condition and are being treated well, we are troubled by the circumstances surrounding their detention,” Hawkins said. “They have both spoken to their parents. We will continue to work with local authorities, and encourage the swift release of these volunteers.”
KSL-TV, an NBC-affiliated television station in Utah, reported the father of one of the detained men said that Russian authorities were charging the volunteers with teaching English without a license. The father said the charge is untrue, and that the two men were playing games in English with others at a meeting house Friday night, but they were not holding a class.
We are troubled by the circumstances surrounding their detention.
The church refers to the two men as volunteers, not missionaries, as it customarily does, because Russia does not permit proselytizing.
Meanwhile, Russian officials on Wednesday said they were unaware of the detentions, according to published reports. Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at a press conference in Moscow, "I don't have this information,” and told reporters to contact other officials about the matter.
The name of one of the volunteers, Kole Brodowski of California, was made public after his father, Kyle, posted on Facebook: "Please pray for our son and his companion. They really need it …They were in the church building and arrested…It has been difficult to understand, and is becoming more complicated each day.”
The name of the other volunteer has not been made public.
The Fox affiliate station in Salt Lake City quoted a man identified only as Chris, and a former religious volunteer, as saying that Russia is inhospitable to those of various religions.
"To say it's a place that you're not welcomed is an understatement," the man was quoted as saying. “I think police are just like anyone on the street: They have their own prejudices and they have their own bias and if they already know in their mind that public enemy number one are these 'Sektanti,' these religious inter-groups that aren't Russian Orthodox, they're already going to have their guard up, so any excuse to get these people out of their country: they're going to do it.”
Russia officially recognized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1991.