Russian YouTuber Found Guilty of Playing Pokemon Go and 'Inciting Hatred' in a Church

In Vladimir Putin's Russia, Pokemon catch you.

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Twenty-two-year old Ruslan Sokolovsky received a 3.5-year suspended sentence for playing Pokemon Go in one of Russia's holiest sites and uploading a profanity-laden video to YouTube (via Vox).

Last August, Sokolovsky, a blogger and self-professed atheist recorded a video of himself playing Pokemon Go inside the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg. The cathedral is considered hallowed ground; it was erected on the spot where Russian czar Nicholas II and his family were executed by Bolsheviks in 1918 (per Washington Post).

A judge in Yekaterinburg found Sokolovsky guilty of violating a four-year-old blasphemy law as well as breaking another law forbidding incitement of hatred. According to the judge, the 22-year-old blogger's acts and language insulted Muslims and Christians. Two comments in particular drew the ire of Russian officials. First, Sokolovsky "[attributed] to Jesus Christ the qualities of a reanimated zombie." Second, near the end of his video, he quipped, "But you know, I didn't catch the rarest Pokémon that you could find there: Jesus. But I couldn't help it. They say it doesn't even exist."

The judge issued the verdict according to Russian president Vladimir Putin's desire to ram conservative values into every corner of Russia, in accordance with the views of the Russian Orthodox Church.

However, individuals including Sokolovsky's attorney and assorted Russian political figures see the judge's sentence as a victory.

“We must understand that a suspended sentence today means acknowledgment of innocence,” tweeted opposition activist Nikolai Lyaskin.

Alexei Navalny, Russia's most prolific opposition leader, agreed, chiming in on Twitter. “A suspended sentence for Sokolovsky, who did not commit any crime, is better than a real sentence for Sokolovsky, who did not commit any crime." Sokolovsky likewise was issued a suspended sentence earlier this year for a crime he says he did not commit.

"It's a relief that Sokolovsky is not behind bars, but the fact that he was prosecuted and convicted remains a prime example of the Russian authorities using vague and broad anti-extremist laws to stifle free speech and promote self-censorship," said Yulia Gorbunova, a Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Sokolovsky's actions may have offended some or indeed many, but they present no public danger and criminal sanctions against him are groundless incursions on the right to free expression."

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