Eduardo Woo is licensed under  CC BY 2.0

Eduardo Woo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

On April 28, prosecutors in Russia sought a prison sentence lasting three and half years for Ruslan Sokolovsky, a 22-year-old blogger. Sokolovsky an atheist, was charged with incitement of religious hatred due to playing Pokémon Go inside a church. He was subjected to house arrest from the summer of 2016 when the incident happened.

According to The Moscow Times, Sokolovsky started a magazine promoting atheist thought in 2016. He had uploaded a video to YouTube in 2016. In August 2016, he wandered inside Yekaterinburg's Church of All Saints searching for Pokémon on the augmented reality game. The start of the video shows the blogger referring to a number of news reports that warned players not to enter churches to play the augmented reality game.

In the video Sokolovsky's asks himself: how can a person offend God by entering any church armed with a smartphone? He then continues on to say that Pokémon playing inside churches is not banned and thus safe. The camera then enters the church and shows him playing the game. The video ends with the blogger saying jokingly that he was unable to catch Jesus, the rarest Pokémon. However, since it does not exist, he was not at all surprised. The Russian Ministry of the Interior claimed that it discovered his video through a “web monitoring” program. The video was subsequently sent to the Centre for Combating Extremism.

Incidentally, Sokolovsky played Pokémon Go in a church which Russians believe was constructed on the spot where Tsar Nicholas II and his family, including wife Tsarina Alexandra were executed by Bolshevik troops in 1918. Principal charges brought against the blogger includes the incitement of religious hatred. This is the same subsection of the law which sent two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot to jail in 2012. Other charges include offending the sensibility of religious believers and illegal carriage of equipment for the purpose of covert filming.

Sokolovsky's arrest has brought a strong response from Amnesty International. The organization termed it “farcical attack on freedom of expression.” It added that the blogger was a “prisoner of conscience.”

When he heard the recommended sentence, Sokolovsky's reaction was of dismay. He protested by saying, “I may be an idiot, but I am by no means an extremist.”

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