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Hope for Church volunteers detained in Russia

SALT LAKE CITY — The Russian government is denying knowledge of two volunteers for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being detained in the country.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Moscow that they don’t have any information, and that journalists should contact the “relevant authorities” for more information.

It is happening in the city of Novorossiysk, a city on the Black Sea, and experts say it will most likely continue to be handled by local authorities. Which Deseret News Opinion Editor Boyd Matheson

The laws are pretty strict in Russia, for example, that’s why Church missionaries are called volunteers.

BYU-Idaho student Cody Watterson served in that very mission from July 2014 to July 2016, with the last few months of his mission in the same city. He says missionaries or volunteers being detained was pretty common, but not for this long.

“The fact that they’ve been held for a couple of days is surprising,” he told KSL Newsradio live on Wednesday morning.

“The main one, was Russian law allows for any police officer to detain someone for up to three hours to verify their identity. So the big one we got detained for when I was there, was officers would take us to the police station to verify our documents,” he said.

Watterson says he has full confidence in the Church’s legal team and that they’ll be able to get things worked out.

So does former Utah State Representative Ronda Menlove. She served in the Europe East Area for the Church when the laws changed in Russia in July 2016.

“Their feeling was, they didn’t want terrorist groups recruiting in their country, which we can understand.” But the law extended to religious groups as well.

“Our name was changed, and we were not able to speak to people on the street or distribute material on the street to get people to come to church,” she said.

For what it’s worth, Watterson says the city they are in is beautiful. It’s a port city by the black sea about 900 miles south of Moscow.