Two Americans were detained in Russia by the country’s Foreign Ministry, the Washington Examiner reports.
The detentions were confirmed by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova who said, “We can confirm information about the detention of a few U.S. citizens.”
An official from the U.S. State Department confirmed the detentions, per the report.
“We can confirm two U.S. citizens were detained in Novorossiysk, Russia,” the U.S. State Department official said. “We have no higher priority than the protection of U.S. citizens abroad. Due to privacy considerations, we do not have any additional information at this time.”
The Washington Examiner reported the two individuals are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here’s more:
The pair are being held in the southern Russian Black Sea port city of Novorossiysk, a State Department official confirmed.
The Russian government has been cracking down on registered religious groups in the last few years, with the LDS church being one of Putin’s main targets. Mormons have maintained a sizable presence in Russia — it’s been one of the more popular destinations for two-year missions, which most Mormon men go on starting at age 19.
According to the Moscow Times:
A recent report named Russia as one of 50 countries in the world where Christians are persecuted the most. It is due in part to anti-terrorist laws passed in 2016 that prohibit religious proselytization, forcing Mormon missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to rebrand themselves as “volunteers” and preventing them from seeking new converts.
With an estimated 22,000 practicing members in Russia, the church is wary of becoming subject to the same persecution currently being faced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The latter group was labeled extremist by Russia’s Supreme Court in 2017, leading to mass arrests of its adherents, raids and property seizures.
The Moscow Times also reports the individuals’ names are David Gaaga and Kole Brodowski.