The 22-year-old has been convicted of inciting religious hatred, although he will not go to jail.
Russian blogger Ruslán Sokolovski has been sentenced on Thursday to three and a half years in prison for hunting pokemon in a church in the Urals region. The young man, aged 22, has been suspended from serving the sentence, so he will not have to go to prison if at that time he does not commit a new crime. Sokolovski was convicted of inciting religious hatred by posting videos of Pokémon Go inside temples and mocking Christianity.
The young man was arrested in September 2016 after a video saying that Jesus Christ was «the rarest pokémon» and that he had failed to capture him. He recorded himself playing Pokémon Go in a church built in honor of the canonization of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and his family members killed. He also said he decided to use the virtual game inside churches in protest because he had seen news of others being jailed or fined up to half a million rubles (8,000 euros) for doing so.
The sentence issued by the court in Ekaterinburg, which allows the blogger to leave free despite the sentence, was received with a standing ovation in the viewing room. «Many thanks to everyone for the support you have given me,» the blogger told reporters after the hearing, which was broadcast on YouTube.
During the trial, Sokolovski pleaded not guilty to being an extremist. He claimed that he only intended to make money and become famous with his videos, and not hurt the feelings of believers. The human rights organization Amnesty International intervened in the case and demanded the release of the young person.
The prosecution accused Sokolovski of violating the right to freedom of belief, of inciting hatred and of illegal possession of technical equipment for the secret collection of information, since police found in the house of the blogger a pen with a hidden camera. The court found the young man guilty of the crimes and imposed the three and a half years in prison that the prosecution requested, but granted the suspension of the sentence.
Sokolovski’s trial for offending religious sentiment is the most famous case in Russia after the Pussy Riot scandal. In February 2012, five members of the Pussy Riot group burst into the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Savior and interpreted what they called a «punk prayer» that, among other things, said: «Mother of God, throw Putin.» Half a year later, three protagonists of the scandal were declared guilty of vandalism by reasons of religious hatred and condemned to two years of jail. One of those convicted subsequently obtained parole and the other two received an amnesty two months before ending their sentence.