An atheist video blogger has gone on trial in Russia for playing “Pokemon GO” in a church.
The trial of Ruslan Sokolovsky started Monday in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. The well-known blogger is accused of inciting religious hatred for playing the popular video game in a Russian Orthodox church in Yekaterinburg.
Investigators have charged the 22-year-old with inciting religious hatred, the same offense that sent two women from the Pussy Riot punk collective to prison for two years in 2012, and insulting the feelings of religious believers.
Sokolovsky, who has pleaded not guilty, faces a possible sentence of 7 ½ years in prison if convicted.
The blogger has been in pre-trial detention since October when a court reversed his house arrest.
Amnesty International has condemned Sokolovsky’s detention and describes the blogger as a prisoner of conscience.
Sokolovsky published a video on YouTube on Aug. 11 last year in which he plays “Pokemon GO” in the church. On Aug. 18 the local Ministry of the Interior’s press office issued a statement that officials had discovered the video and had sent it for police investigation. The blogger was arrested on Sep. 2, according to Amnesty International.
The human rights watchdog says that the blogger wanted to draw attention to Russian legislation that criminalizes actions that offend religious believers. At the end of the video Sokolovsky says that he caught several Pokemon in the church. “But, you know, I didn’t catch the rarest pokemon that you could find there – Jesus,” he adds. “But I couldn’t help it. They say it doesn’t exist, so I’m not really surprised.”
The blogger’s video has been viewed more than 1.6 million times on YouTube.
Sokolovsky was playing the game in a church built on the supposed spot where the family of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, was killed.
Digital Journal reports that Sokolovsky also faces a separate charge of illegally possessing a “spy pen” with recording capabilities, found during a search of his apartment. In court, the blogger said that the pen is widely available for purchase and is not suitable for secret recording, according to the report.
Launched last year, “Pokemon GO” quickly became a global phenomenon. The free augmented reality game lets players ‘capture’ Pokemon, or digital creatures, at real locations using their smartphones, but has fueled fears over distracted pedestrians, dangerous trespassing and criminals preying on unsuspecting gamers.
Last year Saudi clerics renewed a fatwa against playing “Pokemon GO” that was first issued in 2001 when the game was played with cards. The edict said Pokemon violates Islamic prohibitions against gambling, uses devious Masonic-like symbols and promotes "forbidden images."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.