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Pokémon Go blogger found guilty of inciting religious hatred

Ruslan Sokolovsky (centre) a blogger who played Pokemon Go on his phone in a church, leaves his hearing at a court in Yekaterinburg on May 11, 2017. (KONSTANTIN MELNITSKIY/AFP/Getty Images)

A Russian blogger has been convicted of inciting religious hatred for playing “Pokemon Go” in a church, and given a suspended sentence.

Ruslan Sokolovsky posted a video on his blog last year showing him playing the smartphone game in a church built on the supposed spot where the last Russian tsar and his family were killed in the city of Yekaterinburg. He has been in detention since October.

Judge Yekaterina Shoponyak on Thursday found Sokolovsky guilty of inciting religious hatred and gave him a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence. It is the same offence that sent two women from the Pussy Riot punk collective to prison for two years in 2012.

Sokolovsky’s behaviour and his anti-religious videos manifested his “disrespect for society,” Shoponyak said in televised remarks, adding that Sokolovsky “intended to offend religious sentiments.”

The judge pointed out that the 22-year-old video blogger was on trial not only for playing the game in the church but also for posting several videos that offended believers. She listed “mockery of the Immaculate Conception,” ”denial of the existence of Jesus and Prophet Muhammad” and “giving an offensive description of Patriarch Kirill,” the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict Sokolovsky thanked the media for raising the alarm about the trial, which has been widely described as a witch hunt: “I would probably have been sent to prison if it wasn’t for the journalists’ support.”

Once an officially atheist state, the majority of Russians now identify themselves as Orthodox Christians.

Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Russian presidential human rights council, told the Interfax news agency after the verdict that the council would study the case files but he welcomed that fact that Sokolovsky was given a suspended sentence, not a prison term.