This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In the wake of a new law regulating religious work and proselytizing in Russia, the Mormon church announced Monday that it has reassigned nearly half of its missionaries who intended to serve there.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reassigned 30 missionaries at the Provo Missionary Training Center who were originally assigned to serve in Russia.
"These volunteers were reassigned to serve in different missions in Russia or to other Russian-speaking missions in Eastern Europe," church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a news release.
There are 47 missionaries who are now known as "volunteers" in Russia at the training center who will go to their originally assigned mission.
Due to Russia's recent changes in the law, including changes that ban missionaries from proselytizing publicly, Hawkins said, there is not a need for as many missionaries in that area. Those who will serve in Russia will focus on "supporting the church and its members, and on engaging in community and humanitarian service," according to Hawkins' statement.
In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law an anti-terrorism measure that seeks to increase phone and social media surveillance, as well as penalties for online extremism. The measure also limits proselytizing by religious groups outside of officially designated sites. People who conduct religious missionary work including preaching, leading prayer and disseminating materials in private residences can be fined up to $15,000 and may be deported under the new law.
In August, six Mormon missionaries were detained for a few hours due to questions about their visas, Hawkins said last month. Three of those volunteers were reassigned to another Russian-speaking mission outside of the country because of "technicalities related to their visas," Hawkins said.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has condemned the law, calling it a "guise" that authorizes "sweeping powers to curtail civil liberties."
The LDS Church counts seven missions, 100 congregations and 22,720 members in Russia.