Russian vlogger found guilty of inciting hatred for playing Pokemon Go in a church

A Russian YouTuber was found guilty Thursday of inciting hatred and insulting religious believers after filming himself playing Pokémon Go inside a church. Ruslan Sokolovsky has avoided a prison sentence, instead receiving a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence.

Sokolovsky was visibly relieved after the sentence was announced by Judge Yekaterina Shoponyak, who had said the 21-year-old’s videos showed his “disrespect for society,” and ruled that he “intended to offend religious sentiments.”

“Without the support from reporters, I would possibly have been given a real prison sentence,” Sokolovsky said after the verdict was handed down.

Sokolovsky, who has over 300,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, filmed himself playing the game in August 2016, at the height of the Pokémon Go craze. The game uses augmented reality technology to overlay digital content onto the real world – meaning players have to walk to different locations to catch the Pokémon.

The video, which has now been watched almost 2 million times, shows Sokolovsky outside the Church of All Saints in the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg. In the clip, Sokolovsky refers to news reports warning people not to play the game in the church, but says: “How can one offend by entering a church with a smartphone? I decided to just catch some Pokémon in church because, why not? I believe it’s both safe and not prohibited by law. Let’s go.”

Unlike many other parts of the world, Russia has not embraced the Pokémon Go craze and the game has never been officially launched there. Last year communications minister Nikolai Nikiforov even told the Moscow Times he suspected “U.S. intelligence services might have contributed to this app.”

A psychologist also suggested the game was a western attempt to control the Russian population by making people infertile, while a Cossack leader warned that the game “reeked of satanism.”

Cover: Sipa USA via AP

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