Russian blogger found guilty of playing 'Pokémon Go' in church

22-year-old Ruslan Sokolovsky received a suspended jail sentence for inciting religious hatred.

Donat Sorokin/TASS

A Russian judge has found a Russian YouTuber guilty of inciting hatred for posting antireligious videos after he filmed himself playing Pokémon Go in a church. Ruslan Sokolovsky, a 22-year-old man from the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg (around 1,000 miles east of Moscow), could have faced up to five years in jail for "offending religious sensibilities." Sokolovsky was handed a three and a half year suspended sentence.

Sokolovsky posted footage of him catching Pokémon in the Yekaterinburg's Church of All Saints back in August 2016. The video was posted in response to the government imposing tougher penalties on people judged to have purposely insulted the feelings of believers in places of religious worship.

"Who can ever be offended by you walking around a church with your smartphone?" he asked at the start of his video. "Why the f*ck would they lock you up for that?" A few weeks after it went live on YouTube, Sokolovsky was awoken by police who had accessed his apartment using keys from his landlord and arrested. He was then placed under house arrest until his court appearance.

Prosecutors lobbied for at least a three-year sentence for Sokolovsky under the new religious laws, but it could stretch to five. It is thought to be the same Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code that helped prosecute Russian punk band Pussy Riot.

Human rights organization Amnesty International has lobbied for Sokolovsky's release, arguing that the punishment and the law is a restriction on free speech. In September 2016 alone, over 14,000 people had contacted the Russian authorities demanding he be set free.