Russian Blogger Given 3 1/2 Year Suspended Sentence for Pokemon Go Video

Episode One: Pokemon Games

23-year-old blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky was given a three and a half year suspended sentence by a court in Yekaterinburg, Russia for uploading a video of himself playing Pokemon Go in church which “offended the religious feelings of believers,” a criminal offense in Russia. The prosecutor demanded three years and six months in prison for the Pokemon Go video as well as a series of videos from Sokolovsky’s “atheist” blog which “incited hatred” and “breached the right to freedom of religion.” A main part of Sokolovsky’s guitly verdict rested on his “denial of the existance of God” said the judge when she read the verdict.

Coda spoke with Sokolovsky’s mother Elena Chingina in the first episode of our animated series Jailed for a Like, which tracks cases of Russians imprisoned for their activity on social media.

“Ruslan didn’t offend anyone with anything. He simply expressed his opinion with words,” Chingina said. “He was shocked that for some cartoon you can be jailed or fined 500,000 rubles [$8,390].”

You’re browser does not support HTML5 video. You may download this video instead.

Jailed for a Like

Sokolovsky uploaded the Pokemon video on August 11, 2016 and was detained on September 2, 2016 on charges of extremism and insulting the feelings of believers. He was put under pre-trial house arrest and then in a pre-trial detention center in October for four months after a visit by his girlfriend on his birthday violated the rules of his house arrest.

During the trial Sokolovsky said that he heard on Russian state TV that the government had banned people from playing Pokemon Go in churches. He decided to test what he thought was an absurd law.

“Someone felt insulted when they watched my videos online,” Sokolovsky told reporters after a court hearing. “I never asked these people to watch my videos. Don’t watch them, I don’t recommend them to anyone!”

Sokolovsky’s arrest and trial have made him an internet celebrity and continue to fuel discussion in Russia over how people should behave on social media. In the past few years, dozens of Russians have been imprisoned and fined for posts, shares or even likes on social media, often under the same extremism law used to prosecute Sokolovsky.

“The videos were very unpleasant,” said local journalist Maxim Rumyantsev, a key witness against Sokolovsky, in court. “To watch them more than once is unpleasant. It is destabilizing to Russia.”

Rumyantsev was the first to complain to authorities about the blogger’s video, saying he was particularly offended by Sokolovsky’s comment that Jesus is a “rare Pokemon.”

“I’m not interested in religion because I think it’s generally unnecessary,” Sokolovsky said during the trial. “The reason why I’ve pleaded innocent to these charges is because I am in no case an extremist. I might be an idiot, but not an extremist.”

Sokolovsky was found guilty of inciting hatred, of offending the religious feelings of believers and of possessing an illegal method for obtaining information (authorities found a pen with a hidden video camera when they searched his home).

When Coda spoke to Sokolovsky’s mother he was still being held in a pre-trial detention center. Here are several more scenes from the interview with Elena Chingina:

You’re browser does not support HTML5 video. You may download this video instead.

Pokemon Games: Deleted Scene

“More than anything, I’m sorry that they’ve broken his future.”

You’re browser does not support HTML5 video. You may download this video instead.

Pokemon Games: Deleted Scene

“I’m actually sure that they have to let him go.”

You’re browser does not support HTML5 video. You may download this video instead.

Pokemon Games: Deleted Scene

“I’ll either die from a stroke or from hunger.”

The story you just read is a small piece of a complex and an ever-changing storyline that Coda covers relentlessly and with singular focus. But we can’t do it without your help. Show your support for journalism that stays on the story by becoming a member today. Coda Story is a 501(c)3 U.S. non-profit. Your contribution to Coda Story is tax deductible.

Support Coda

The Big Idea

Shifting Borders

Borders are liminal, notional spaces made more unstable by unparalleled migration, geopolitical ambition and the use of technology to transcend and, conversely, reinforce borders. Perhaps the most urgent contemporary question is how we now imagine and conceptualize boundaries. And, as a result, how we think about community. In this special issue are stories of postcolonial maps, of dissidents tracked in places of refuge, of migrants whose bodies become the borderline, and of frontier management outsourced by rich countries to much poorer ones.
Read more