A Russian blogger was convicted Thursday of inciting religious hatred for playing Pokemon Go in a church and given a 3.5-year suspended sentence. Ruslan Sokolovsky's offense is the same one that sent two women from Pussy Riot to prison in 2012. Sokolovsky posted a video on his blog last year showing him playing the smartphone game in a church built on the supposed spot where the last Russian czar and his family were killed. He has been in detention since October. Sokolovsky's behavior and his anti-religious videos manifested his "disrespect for society," said Judge Yekaterina Shoponyak, who added that Sokolovsky "intended to offend religious sentiments," the AP reports. Once an officially atheist state, Russia has made a stunning turnaround since the fall of the Soviet Union, with the majority of Russians now identifying as Orthodox Christians.
Shoponyak said the 22-year-old video blogger was also on trial for posting videos that offended believers, listing "mockery of the Immaculate Conception," ''denial of the existence of Jesus and Prophet Muhammad," and "giving an offensive description of Patriarch Kirill," the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although most Russians aren't observant, the Kremlin has been eager to harness faith to promote its own agenda. Many prominent figures expressed outrage. "I was born and grew up in the Soviet Union, where 98% of citizens were atheists," opposition leader Alexey Navalny tweeted. "And now I'm listening to a verdict where a man has been convicted for atheism." After the verdict, Sokolovsky thanked the media for raising the alarm on the trial: "I would probably have been sent to prison if it wasn't for the journalists' support."