Russia imprisons blogger who hunted Pokemon in church

A Pokemon trainer playing the Pokemon Go mobile game in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
A Pokemon trainer playing the Pokemon Go mobile game in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

MOSCOW (AFP) - A Russian court on Friday (Oct 28) ordered a blogger to be held behind bars for three months pending trial for hunting Pokemon in church, after he broke rules of his house arrest.

And Ruslan Sokolovsky, a 22-year-old from the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, risks a five-year jail term after being charged with offending religious believers and inciting hatred.

Sokolovsky, a militant atheist, was detained in August after posting a YouTube video that has been viewed more than one million times showing him entering a church and playing Pokemon Go on his iPhone.

He was charged under a controversial law passed in response to the Pussy Riot punk performance in a Moscow church in 2012 for which two members received two-year jail sentences for hooliganism.

The case has highlighted the growing influence in secular life of the Russian Orthodox Church despite its nominal separation from the state and has sparked condemnation from rights groups including Amnesty International.

The Orthodox Church has also accused him of blasphemy over the stunt in a church built on the site where the Bolsheviks shot the last Tsar and his family in 1918.

Yekaterinburg's Kirovsky district court ruled Friday that Sokolovsky be held behind bars in a pre-trial detention centre until next January after violating the rules of his house arrest, RIA Novosti state news agency reported, quoting his lawyer.

Lawyer Alexei Bushmakov said the closed court hearing ordered Sokolovsky's jailing on the request of investigators because his fiancee had come to visit him for his birthday.

The decision was criticised by Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights advisory body.

He told Echo of Moscow radio station: "I think he absolutely doesn't deserve to be held in a detention centre."

"Imprisonment is an exceptional measure," said Fedotov, urging the case's closure due to its "triviality." Amnesty International has appealed for Russia to immediately release Sokolovsky, calling the charges against him "farcical."