Russian who played Pokemon Go in church avoids jail term

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) - A Russian court on Thursday gave a suspended three and a half year jail sentence to a blogger who was detained after he played the Pokemon Go video game inside a Russian Orthodox church last year.

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Ruslan Sokolovsky was found guilty of inciting religious hatred after posting a video on YouTube where he is seen playing Pokemon Go on his cell phone in the church.

In the video, which contains strong language mocking Christianity, Sokolovsky likens Jesus Christ to a Pokemon character and says he had decided to play the popular game inside the church because he had seen a news report saying people who did so could be fined or jailed.

The video garnered more than 1.9 million views, and Sokolovsky was temporarily confined to a pre-trial detention centre.

The court in the Urals region city of Yekaterinburg also sentenced 22-year-old Sokolovsky to 160 hours of compulsory community service and told him not to show up in public places.

“I’m content. I won’t play Pokemon, it’s already out of fashion,” Sokolovsky said after the sentencing.

His lawyer said Sokolovsky was unlikely to appeal Thursday’s verdict.

Inciting religious hatred is the same charge used to prosecute the Pussy Riot punk band in 2012 when they staged a cathedral protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Two of the band were given two-year jail sentences.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined comment on Thursday when asked by reporters about the court’s decision.

Sokolovsky was met by a group of young people who clapped as he left the Yekaterinburg courtroom, including one dressed as a Pokemon character.

A blogger in the crowd, Danila Poperechny, told Reuters he was happy that Sokolovsky had escaped prison time but that he was disappointed that the case had been framed in terms of offending believers’ feelings.

Poperechny said: “The guy spent a lot of time in a temporary detention facility literally for thinking differently”.

Additional reporting by Denis Dyomkin in Moscow; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Christian Lowe