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Pokémon Go Player in Russian Church Found Guilty But Avoids Prison

posted on by Jennifer Sherman
22-year-old pleaded not guilty, received 3.5-year suspended sentence

A court in Yekaterinburg, Russia found Ruslan Sokolovsky guilty on Thursday of “inciting hatred” and “offending believers' feelings" after he played the Pokémon Go smartphone game in a church. He received a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence. The 22-year-old had pleaded not guilty and said he would discuss with his lawyers about whether to appeal the verdict.

The court also found Sokolovsky guilty of "illegal trafficking of special technical equipment" after a pen with built-in camera was discovered in his home. After Sokolovsky's arrest for allegedly playing Pokémon Go in a Russian church and posting the video online, prosecutors found 17 "incriminating episodes" on his YouTube channel.

BBC reported on Thursday that Sokolovsky said in the video of himself playing Pokémon Go in the church that the risk of arrest was "complete nonsense." He also reportedly said, "Who could get offended if you're just walking around with your smartphone in a church?"

The U.K. human rights group Amnesty International responded to the conviction on Thursday. The group said, "Russian authorities have blatantly misused the criminal justice system, including draconian anti-extremist legislation, in a show trial against blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky." Director of Amnesty International Russia Sergei Nikitin also criticized Russia's "blasphemy" law and described the conviction as "another assault on freedom of expression.”

Russian television network 2x2 cancelled the airing of an episode of The Simpsons last week because the episode satirized the church incident.

Sokolovsky had been on trial since March. Sokolovsky had been in pre-trial detention since October, when a court reversed the house arrest he had been serving at his attorney's apartment. Sokolovsky had been released from pre-trial detention in September. According to Amnesty International, he was not allowed to use his phone or the Internet during house arrest. Sokolovsky was originally ordered to stay in jail until November pending a trial, but filed an appeal against the arrest.

The blogger reportedly posted a video on August 11, which showed him playing the game inside the Church of All Saints. He was charged with "incitement to hatred and attacks on the liberty of faith." The Russian Orthodox Church reportedly said the alleged provocative nature of the video led to Sokolovsky's prosecution rather than the act of playing Pokémon Go. The church where the blogger allegedly played the game is built on the supposed site where Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia, and his family were killed.

After the Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot performed in protest at a Moscow church and recorded a music video there, three members were convicted of the same offense of "incitement to hatred and attacks on the liberty of faith." The three members were sentenced to two years in prison in 2012, although one member had her sentence suspended.

Pokémon Go is already banned in Iran due to security concerns, and developer Niantic Labs disabled the game in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. in August.

The Pokémon Go app launched in select countries including the United States on July 6, and has since launched in more than 50 countries.

Source: BBC

Image via The Associated Press (Vladimir Zhabrikov)

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