A Russian blogger has been convicted of inciting religious hatred for playing Pokémon Go in a church.
Ruslan Sokolovsky posted a video on his blog last year showing him playing the game in a church in the city of Yekaterinburg, The Associated Press reports. He has been in detention since October.
Judge Yekaterina Shoponyak on Thursday found Sokolovsky guilty of inciting religious hatred and gave him a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence. It is the same offense that sent two women from the Pussy Riot punk collective to prison for two years in 2012.
In the video, which contains strong language mocking Christianity, Sokolovsky likens Jesus Christ to a Pokémon character and says he had decided to play the game inside the church because he had seen a news report saying people who did so could be fined or jailed, Reuters reports.
The video garnered more than 1.9 million views, and Sokolovsky was temporarily confined to a pretrial detention center.
Sokolovsky’s behavior and his anti-religious videos manifested his “disrespect for society,” Shoponyak said in televised remarks, adding that Sokolovsky “intended to offend religious sentiments.”
After the verdict was announced, the blogger said he was relieved.
“Until the very last moment I didn’t know what the sentencing would be, that’s why I was very nervous and feared I would get a real prison term,” he told BBC Russian.
He said he had already apologized to religious believers, adding that the way he delivered his video was “too cynical for Russian society.”
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 themselves as Orthodox Christians. Although most Russians are not observant, the Kremlin has been eager to harness faith to promote its own agenda. The guilty verdict for the Pussy Riot members emboldened radical religious activists who have been successful in their public campaigns to get theater performances banned and exhibitions closed. Last year, activists launched a drive to collect signatures to end state funding for abortion.
Sokolovsky’s conviction caused outrage in Russia with many prominent figures describing it as a condemnation of atheism.
“I was born and grew up in the Soviet Union where 98 percent of citizens were atheists,” opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter on Thursday while the hearing was being webcast. “And now I’m listening to a verdict where a man has been convicted for atheism.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.