(Moscow) – A Russian court on May 11, 2017, convicted a 22-year-old blogger on criminal charges of incitement of hatred and insult to the religious feelings of believers, Human Rights Watch said today. The court gave the blogger, Ruslan Sokolovsky, a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence.
Sokolovsky had posted to YouTube a prank video in which he plays Pokemon Go in a church. The authorities should take steps to have the conviction vacated or set aside, and stop prosecuting individuals for peaceful exercise of their right to free speech.
“It’s a relief that Sokolovsky is not behind bars, but the fact that he was prosecuted and convicted remains a prime example of the Russian authorities using vague and broad anti-extremist laws to stifle free speech and promote self-censorship,” said Yulia Gorbunova, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Sokolovsky’s actions may have offended some or indeed many, but they present no public danger and criminal sanctions against him are groundless incursions on the right to free expression.”
The charges against Sokolovsky stem from an August 11, 2016 prank video Sokolovsky uploaded to his YouTube channel. In the video, Sokolovsky is seen playing Pokemon Go, the popular location-based reality game, on his phone in the Russian Orthodox Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg. At the end of the video, Sokolovsky says: “I regret not catching the rarest of Pokemons: Jesus. They say he does not exist.”