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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.

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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.

“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.