A Russian blogger has received a three-and-a-half years suspended sentence for inciting religious hatred, after filming himself playing Pokémon Go in a church.
Ruslan Sokolovsky, 22, made the video of himself catching Pokémon on his smartphone in the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg back in summer 2016, at the height of the game’s popularity. Sokolovsky then shared the experience to his social media following, which led to his arrest last October.
Today the court ruled that the video was “intended to offend religious sentiments,” and was a reflection of his own disrespect for religion and wider society. The prosecution asked for a three-and-a-half years imprisonment, but Sokolovsky instead received a suspended sentence for the same period.
The nature of his crime was described as ‘inciting religious hatred’, the same offence that famously sent two members of the Pussy Riot to prison for two years in 2012. Speaking to the BBC in Russia, Sokolovsky said he feared facing an actual prison sentence.
“Until the very last moment I didn’t know what the sentencing would be, that’s why I was very nervous and feared I would get a real prison term,” Sokolovsky said. “Without the support from reporters, I would possibly have been given a real prison sentence.”
Strangely the case is not the first instance of a Pokémon Go related crime. Last year in Missouri, four people were arrested for luring Pokémon Go players to secluded locations to rob them at gun point. They did so using the game’s ‘lure module’ function, a micro-transaction purchase that lets you summon rare characters to real life locations.
The game’s monumental global success and fast adoption lead to several unprecedented cultural situations. By design Pokémon Go automatically recognises landmarks such as museums, churches or monuments as pit-stops that unlock in-game items or Gym arenas where players can battle each other for points.
The US holocaust museum was once such location, and therefore had to publicly ask players to stay away out of respect. They later officially requested that developers Niantic remove them from the app.
It also lead to a bright pink Pokémon (Clefairy) called ‘Love is Love’ becoming the gym leader for the location of the Westboro Baptist Chruch. Players passing the church would then see the character and its name on their map, which caused the anti-gay establishment to label Clefairy a sodomite over social media.