Russian blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky has been convicted of “inciting religious hatred,” after filming himself playing to popular game Pokemon Go in a church.
According to BBC News, Ruslan spent nine months in jail and on house arrest after police discovered he had uploaded a video on his YouTube channel of him playing the game in the Church of All Saints, an Orthodox church in Yekaterinburg. Prior to entering the church, Ruslan could be heard saying that the chance of getting arrested was “complete nonsense.”
In the video, he said, “Who could get offended if you’re just walking around with your smartphone in a church? I decided to just catch some Pokemon in church because, why not? I believe it’s both safe and not prohibited by law. Let’s go.”
You can watch the complete video, which has been viewed nearly 2 million times, below.
Apparently, religious leaders were beyond offended by Sokolovsky’s actions and accused him of “blasphemy.” He was arrested shortly after and was charged with inciting hatred and offending religious sensibilities, according to the Guardian. The penalty for the charges brought against him were up to five years in prison. On Thursday, May 11, Judge Yekaterina Shoponyak found Ruslan guilty of the charges and sentenced him to a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence.
“Aggregating all offences, the court sentences (Sokolovsky) to three years and six months of prison. The punishment is suspended, with a probationary period of three years,” Shoponyak said to the packed courtroom on Thursday, adding that his videos and remarks “confuse citizens” and are “disrespectful of society.”
“These actions are extremist actions,” Shoponyak said.
Ruslan Sokolovsky was arrested in 2016 for insulting religious believers & inciting hatred, after post of himself catching Pokémon in church pic.twitter.com/FU11WDlNuD
— Sherman (@Shermanbot) May 11, 2017
After hearing the verdict and his sentence, Ruslan said he was very relieved.
“Until the very last moment I didn’t know what the sentencing would be, that’s why I was very nervous and feared I would get a real prison term,” he said.
His mother added after the hearing, “I thought I would die and not see him again. Thank you everybody.”
Blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky, who caught Pokemon in church, is getting a suspended sentence. pic.twitter.com/Les4XAEl0e
— X Soviet (@XSovietNews) May 11, 2017
Although Ruslan and his mother were overjoyed to hear about the suspended sentence, some human right’s organizations were furious with the guilty verdict, according to USA Today.
“While some may see Ruslan Sokolovsky’s comments on religion as disparaging, this alone is not enough to throw him behind bars,” said Sergei Nikitin, the director of Amnesty International’s Russia operation. “Make no mistake, this is neither piety nor a genuine effort to protect the freedom of religion in Russia — especially coming after the authorities only last month banned Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is another assault on freedom of expression.”
— AustynZOGS (@Austynzogs) April 30, 2017
For those of you who do not know, Pokemon GO is a reality game that uses GPS and is played on smartphones. Players walk to different locations in hopes of catching the Pokemon characters such as Pikachu. After collecting the Pokemon, the players train them to fight each other. The game gained popularity last year around the time of Ruslan’s arrest.
Sokolovsky was convicted under the same law that sent members of the punk rock group Pussy Riot to prison for two years in 2012. The group apparently staged a performance against President Vladimir Putin at a cathedral in Moscow.
Do you agree with the verdict and sentence given to Ruslan Sokolovsky? Leave your comments below.
[Featured Image by Alexei Bulatov/AP Images]