Two Americans affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were arrested in Russia and will soon be deported back to the U.S., their lawyer says.
Russian attorney Sergey Gliznutsa told CBS News that Kole Brodowski and another unidentified volunteer were arrested while they were teaching English at a church in Southern Russia.
He went on to explain that the deportation order was given earlier this week, but because of a national holiday, Brodowski and the other man will likely not be released and deported until sometime next week.
Russia has barred foreign missionaries from evangelizing in that country, but the LDS Church maintained that the two Americans fit the definition of “volunteer” and were not violating any laws.
Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the LDS Church, said in a statement that he was concerned about the decision by authorities to detain and deport the two Americans.
“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,” said Hawkins, according to Fox News.
“They have both spoken to their parents. We will continue to work with local authorities, and encourage the swift release of these volunteers.”
In 2016, Russia passed an “anti-missionary” law as part of a broader anti-terrorism law. The measure targets religious minorities to the benefit of the influential Russian Orthodox Church.
About a year after the law was enacted, the Norway-based group Forum 18 recorded 181 cases of Russian authorities using the law to crack down on non-Russian Orthodox religious groups.
The 181 prosecutions included more than 80 cases against individuals representing various Protestant churches, as well as 41 cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses, and several cases against Buddhists, Muslims, and a dozen Hare Krishna members.
The detaining of the Mormon volunteers comes a month after a Russian court sentenced Danish citizen Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah’s Witness, to six years in prison due to the religious sect being declared “extremist” under the nation’s criminal code.
Christensen was arrested in 2017 while giving a sermon.
“The case against Christensen and the raids against Jehovah’s Witness adherents violate the right to freedom of religion, denying them the right to worship, and cannot be justified as either a necessary or proportionate measure to protect public safety or public order,” stated Human Rights Watch.
“The conviction is a blatant violation of the rights to religious freedom and expression. Russian authorities should immediately move to set aside the conviction and free Christensen.”