MOSCOW â A judge in Russiaâs fourth-largest city has convicted a blogger who played âPokÃ©mon Goâ in a renowned Orthodox cathedralÂ of inciting religious hatred and insulting the feelings of believers, the state RIA-Novosti news agency reported Thursday.
Ruslan Sokolovsky, 22,Â was given a suspended sentence ofÂ 3Â½ yearsÂ forÂ playing the mobile phone game during a service in the Church of All Saints in the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg last August.
The argument could be made that he got off easy.
The maximum sentence under a law that prevents the âviolation of the right to freedom of conscience and beliefâÂ is seven years imprisonment, though prosecutors only asked for half of that.Â
âBut, you know, I didn’t catch the rarest PokÃ©mon that you could find there â Jesus,â Sokolovsky, says at the end of a YouTube video he posted of himself playing the game. âThey said it doesnât even exist, so Iâm not really surprised.â
In the video, Sokolovsky dismisses warnings in the Russian media that playing the game, which had a wild run of popularity last summer, could result in jail time.
The charge against Sokolovsky is the same offense that led to the two-year prison sentence handed to two women from the punk-rock collective Pussy Riot, after the group staged a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin at an Orthodox cathedral in Moscow in 2012.
The Church of All SaintsÂ holds special meaning for Orthodox ChristiansÂ because it was built on the site where Russian authorities say the last czar of Russia, Nicholas II, was murdered along with his family.Â The judge said that Sokolovsky had insulted not just Christians, but also Muslims, and that his actions had sent a message of hatred to the church and its leader, Patriarch Kirill, according to RIA-Novosti.
Sokolovsky, 22, pleaded not guilty and expressed shock at the conviction, RIA-Novosti reported.
âI may be an idiot, but I am by no means an extremist,â said Sokolovsky in a statement earlier this year, according to the Russian news site Meduza.
He compared the charge against himÂ to those imposedÂ under Joseph Stalin for joking about communism.
The human rights group Amnesty International has called Sokolovsky a âprisoner of conscienceâ and criticized the Russian government for detaining the blogger âsolely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.â
A Russian TV channel banned an episode of the popular cartoon The Simpsons in which Homer plays âPokÃ©mon GoâÂ during a church serviceÂ after Russian Orthodox ChurchÂ leaders complained it was offensive.
Russia is not the only country to that tried to limit the PokÃ©mon Go craze after the game was introduced last August. The altered reality game involves catching virtual monsters in public places using the mobile phone camera.
A court in India said that the gameÂ âtramples religious sentiments.â
The Holocaust Museum in Washington also publicly urged people to stop catching virtual monsters inside its halls.
âPlaying the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,â Andrew Hollinger, the museumâs communications director, told The Post. âWe are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.â
Amy B Wang contributed to this report from Washington.