Russian Blogger Faces Prison for Playing Game in Church

Russian Blogger

In 2013, the Russian parliament passed a law that criminalized activities that “insult the feelings of believers.” If charged, defendants face up to three years in jail, and at least six men stood trial last year under this charge. Sokolovsky, the last in a series of accused, posted a video on his blog showing him playing the smartphone game Pokemon Go in a church built on the supposed spot where the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, and his family were killed.

“But, you know, I didn't catch the rarest Pokémon that you could find there — Jesus,” Sokolovsky, an outspoken atheist, said at the end of a video he recorded that day. “They said it doesn't even exist, so I'm not really surprised.” He also started an atheist magazine in 2016 according to The Moscow Times.

A local branch of the Ministry of the Interior reportedly discovered the blogger’s YouTube video through its “web monitoring” program and sent it to the regional police Centre for Combating Extremism, according to Amnesty International. When Russian officials discovered the video, they detained Sokolovsky last year and charged him with “inciting hatred or enmity and insulting human dignity” and “public actions expressing clear disrespect to society with the aim to insult religious feelings of believers committed in places for religious worship”. He has been in detention since October. Now he is facing the possible sentence of 3 ½ years in prison.

Sokolovsky, now 22, protested that his potential punishment outweighed the crime. Some people have blasted the potential punishment — and the law — as a restriction on free speech, while prosecutors have justified Sokolovsky's arrest under a new law that prevents the “violation of the right to freedom of conscience and belief.” “Previously #Russia jailed people for mocking Communism/Stalin, now for mocking Orthodoxy,” Moscow Times reporter Matthew Kupfer tweeted. According to the human rights group Amnesty International “Ruslan is a prisoner of conscience, punished for peacefully expressing views – which he is perfectly entitled to do”.

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This was not the first case of capturing little monsters, “Pokemon Go,” the app that allows users to “catch 'em all” using augmented reality, in places that are not suitable for playing games. Officials of the Holocaust Museum in Washington were forced to publicly urge people to stop catching virtual monsters inside its halls. Last September, In India, a high court in the state of Gujarat sent notices … that it decided to hear a complaint alleging that the augmented reality game tramples “religious sentiments” by depicting Pokémon characters in temples and other places of worship, including showing egg-shaped Pokémon figures in some Hindu sites where non-vegetarian food is banned.

Sokolovsky is charged with the same offense for which two members of the Pussy Riot punk collective were arrested in 2012. The group had staged a protest against Russian leader Vladimir Putin at an Orthodox cathedral in Moscow. A judge will issue a final verdict in Sokolovsky's case May 11, according to the Associated Press.

Photo Credits: Amnesty International

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