A Russian court on Thursday convicted a video blogger of blasphemy for posting videos online that showed him playing Pokémon GO inside a church and sentenced him to three years and six months of prison. However, it is a three-year suspended sentence, meaning the punishment will not be carried out unless he commits another crime during this period.
Apart from blasphemy, Ruslan Sokolovsky has also been charged with inciting hatred and violating believers’ rights. In the video shot at Yekaterinburg’s Church of All Saints, the 22-year-old blogger is seen playing the augmented reality game and saying that Pokémon were easier to find in the church than Jesus. The video also mocked Christianity. It had more than a million views, according to The Guardian.
Sokolovsky was first detained in August last year. He has spent nine months in jail and under house arrest, reported AFP. In its judgment, the court said that the videos on Sokolovsky’s YouTube channel hurt the feelings of religious people. It added that his comparison of Jesus Christ with a zombie could incite hatred. “These actions are extremist actions,” Judge Yekaterina Shoponyak after watching the videos, according to AFP.
Both Sokolovsky and his mother welcomed the decision. After the verdict, his mother thanked everybody while Sokolovsky said he is content and pleased. “I won’t play Pokémon, it’s already out of fashion,” he said, according to Reuters. He added, “I’m not an extremist, that much is certain.” During the trials, Sokolovsky had pleaded not guilty and had refused to testify.
Sokolovsky’s case is being compared with a 2012 case in which members of the Pussy Riot punk group were jailed for their performance in a Moscow cathedral that was critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
While the Russian Orthodox Church said the suspended sentence was a proof of the humaneness of the Russian judicial system, rights group Amnesty International said Russia used “the draconian anti-extremist legislation” against Sokolovsky. “While some may see Ruslan Sokolovsky’s comments on religion as disparaging, this alone is not enough to throw him behind bars,” the NGO’s Russia director Sergei Nikitin said in a statement.