MOSCOW (AP) — Two American journalists were briefly detained in Russia and taken to court Thursday for teaching an investigative journalism workshop. Both were found guilty of violating visa regulations, authorities said.
The New England Center for Investigative Reporting said that its co-founder, Joe Bergantino, and University of South Carolina professor Randy Covington, were detained for several hours by immigration authorities as they began teaching their first workshop in St. Petersburg.
The group quoted Bergantino as saying that he and Covington were in Russia for a two-day training workshop with 14 Russian journalists.
The Federal Migration Service in St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, said in a statement the men were taken to court and found guilty of "violating the visa regime" because their activities in Russia "did not correspond to the stated purpose of their visit."
The district court could not immediately be reached late Thursday.
Bergantino and Covington, who had tourist visas, were told they couldn't continue teaching, but were free to leave the country as scheduled Saturday, the New England Center for Investigative Journalism said. It said the visas the two journalists held were the type recommended by the U.S. State Department for that visit.
Russian authorities have used visa issues in the past as a pretext to bar the entry for certain individuals to the country.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said officials from the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg were present at the courtroom and assisted the two journalists.
Asked if the U.S. was concerned about what had happened to them, Psaki said: "They were there to do a training that we sponsored, so I think our preference would have been for them not to be detained, I think it's fair to say. But they've been released. I think we're ready to move forward."
AP correspondent Matthew Lee contributed from Washington.