[query] =>
    [timezone] => America/New_York
    [org] => AWS EC2 (us-east-1)
    [status] => success
    [as] => AS14618, Inc.
    [zip] => 20149
    [lon] => -77.487396240234
    [country] => United States
    [region] => VA
    [city] => Ashburn
    [isp] =>
    [countryCode] => US
    [regionName] => Virginia
    [lat] => 39.043800354004

Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
6 September 2016

Russian vlogger charged with “offending religious sensibilities” for playing Pokémon Go

Ruslan Sokolovsky faces five years in jail for playing Niantic’s record-breaking game in church. 

By New Statesman

Almost every child of the Nineties has a fond memory of playing Pokémon Red on their Gameboy behind the cover of a rotting wooden pew. Frantically stabbing ‘A’ and ‘B’ as the priest sermonised was once a necessary part of the church-going experience. Now, however, a Russian vlogger has pushed one too many buttons by playing Niantic’s record-breaking app Pokémon Go in an Orthodox church.

Ruslan Sokolovsky faces five years in jail after he filmed himself playing the game in a church in the city of Yekaterinburg. The 21-year-old’s video of the incident, posted on 11 August, has racked up over a million views on YouTube. Authorities claim he was arrested for the act of filming, not for catching a wild Poliwag.

In July, however, Russian TV news had warned gamers that playing Pokémon Go in church meant up to three years of jail time. Sokolovsky discusses this at the beginning of his video, going on to ask: “How can one offend by entering a church with a smartphone?”

He is now being charged with inciting hatred and offending religious sensibilities.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Sokolovsky is currently being held in prison whilst he appeals the charge. The offence is the same one that sent the punk rock protest group Pussy Riot to prison for two years in 2012, after they performed an anti-Putin punk-prayer inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Nadya Tolokonnikova, a singer in the band, has tweeted in support of Sokolovsky.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

“Ruslan Sokolovsky is in a detention centre. Where they have gruel, stupid wardens, metal beds, and thin, ripped mattresses with yellow stains,” she wrote. Other Twitter users are now supporting the YouTuber with the hashtag #FreeSokolvsky, with some planning a protest in which they catch Pokémon in the Kazan Cathedral.

This isn’t the first time Russia has spoken out over the app, which officials believe is “dangerous” and “[erodes] morale”. The game has not yet officially been released in Russia and television broadcasts have already detailed how gamers could face criminal charges for playing the game. When it comes to Pokémon Go players, then, the Russian authorities really do want to Catch ‘Em All.