Coming on the heels of the arrest of American Paul Whelan on espionage charges, and famous investor Michael Calvey on suspicion of fraud, both of which remain in jail, Russia has detained two more U.S. citizens who are church volunteers for the Mormon church.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s official spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, on Wednesday confirmed the detention of several US citizens in Russia’s Black Sea port city of Novorossiysk, reported Russian state news agency TASS.
“We confirm the information about the detention of several US citizens,” the diplomat told TASS on Wednesday. “Requests for more details should be addressed to Russian law-enforcement agencies.”
Earlier, the Primorsky district court in Novorossiysk ruled to deport two US citizens, found guilty of violating migration rules. Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the Mormon church, earlier told a US TV channel that the detained individuals were church volunteers.
David Gaaga and Cole Brodovsky were arrested while addressing a local branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in English. The men were usually based in Rostov-on-Don, 200 miles to the north, reported Russian news outlet Kommersant.
In a strict reading of Russia’s migration laws, prosecutors contended that such “English lessons” were not compatible with the religious visas the men had used to enter the country with. In court, the men insisted that discussions in English were part of their religious work, reported The Independent.
Former Russian finance chief Alexei Kudrin, who has President Putin’s ear, declared the arrest of Calvey a ‘national emergency’ for the Russian Federation due to the chill it will have on the investing climate in-country.
The arrest of Mormon volunteers seems to be an extension of the reigning in of Western religious groups in Russia. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been detained as well in recent months and faced repression.