May 12, 2017

Russian blogger receives suspended sentence for playing Pokémon Go in church


For some reason, the Russian activist and blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky’s arrest and detention in October for filming himself playing Pokémon Go in a church in Yekaterinburg didn’t seem to attract quite the same level of international media attention as the not dissimilar stunt pulled by Pussy Riot a few years ago.

Those following the story, however, breathed a tentative sigh of relief yesterday when, as the Associated Press reported, Sokolovsky was convicted of the crime of inciting religious hatred, but received a suspended sentence that spares him further imprisonment.

As the Washington Post’s Yanan Wang relates, last summer, appalled at the seemingly arbitrary opposition to the popular cell phone game by Russian authorities, Sokolovsky decided to film himself playing in the church in Yekaterinburg where, incidentally, Nicolas II and his family are believed to have been killed in 1918. Of course, he must have been betting that the real danger he put himself in would help draw attention to repressive conditions in Russia. Using Pokémon Go (which, you may remember, was all the rage a few months ago) leant his protest a measure of pleasant absurdity. (Pokémon Go has also provoked religious complaints in India!)

According to the AP report, the judge who oversaw Sokolovsky’s trial was careful to note “that the defendant was on trial not only for playing the game in church,” but because the video “was a ‘mockery of the Immaculate Conception,’ included ‘denial of the existence of Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad’ and gave ‘an offensive description of Patriach Kirill’ of the Russian Orthodox Church.” He was convicted of the same offense as the three arrested members of Pussy Riot, two of whom served prison time for staging an anti-Putin performance in an Orthodox cathedral in Moscow.

Speaking to reporters, Sokolovsky thanked the media for covering the trial, saying that he doubted his sentence would have been suspended if it hadn’t been for their attention.



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.