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Ruslan Sokolovsky could face up to seven and a half years in jail, if he is convicted of “inciting religious hatred”.

Ruslan Sokolovsky plays Pokemon Go in Russian church

Ruslan Sokolovsky plays Pokémon Go in Russian church, © YouTube/Ruslan Sokolovsky (Click to watch)

The 22 year old blogger has been held in pre-trial detention since last October (2016) after he released a video of himself playing Pokémon Go in a church in Yekaterinburg, central Russia, in August of 2016.

In the video he explains that a recent news report in Russia highlighted the apparent risks of playing the game in churches. However, in the video Sokolovsky discusses his disbelief that such actions would be prosecuted, and decides to test it by filming himself.

“…for me this is total bullshit, because who can ever be offended by you walking around a church with your smartphone?” – Ruslan Sokolovsky, speaking just weeks before his arrest.

Sokolovsky was arrested a few weeks after posting the video online, under the same laws which were brought in following the famous Pussy Riot church protest. These laws were specifically aimed at limiting free speech in religious places.

IHEU has previously criticised the Russian Government for its lack of respect for freedom of expression, and treatment of civil society in Russia. The prosecution of Sokolovsky has also been condemned by Amnesty International.

Gary McLelland, IHEU Chief Executive

Gary McLelland, IHEU Chief Executive

Commenting on the news, IHEU Chief Executive Gary McLelland said:

“This is yet another significantly worrying development in Russia’s ongoing campaign against free expression. We have seen a widespread and significant crackdown on civil society and free expression over the last four years under the guise of respecting ‘traditional values’ and pandering to the Russian Orthodox Church.

“By choosing to film himself in this way Sokolovsky sought to satirize the Russian authorities and their attitude towards religion, and for that now faces a lengthy jail term.

“We join other international partners by calling for the Russian authorities to drop all the charges against him.”

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