Russistan’s blasphemy law?, formerly the New York Observer, reports from Russia:

Thursday morning in a Moscow courtroom, YouTuber Ruslan Sokolovsky was sentenced to three and a half years probation for an August stunt in which he filmed himself playing Pokémon Go in church.

In a Yekaterinburg courtroom, if I remember correctly. Sokolovsky’s YouTube channel had about 280,000 subscribers so the video eventually scored a million and a half views or more. He was charged with uploading two other “blasphemous” videos but his channel also featured antiPlaton and anti-censorship uploads. (I have not seen any of these.)

In the video, Sokolovsky says he’s not worried about prison because “why the fuck would they lock you up for that?”…

It turns out there was a Pokémon gym right in the chapel, in front of a display of votive candles and a religious mosaic. So he stayed there for a while, catching creatures while people chanted prayers in the background.

“My fucking God, this is fucking beautiful,” he blasphemes as he adds Pokémon to his haul. “But I didn’t catch the rarest Pokémon of all, Jesus.”

The Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg stands on the site where Nicholas II was executed in 1918 together with his wife, children, servants, and family doctor. The young man was obviously seeking to provoke and offend. Pussy Riot never blasphemed or disrupted a church service: their (in)famous song was technically a prayer, if unorthodox.

However, Sokolovsky’s trial and conviction should not have happened. The blasphemy charge – for that’s what it is, although Russia’s criminal code does not use the term – stems from a statute that tramples on freedom of speech. Not to mention that there is something indecent about blasphemy treated as a legal concept, as if Russia were a northern Pakistan.

Some legal action should have been possible against Sokolovsky for misusing the premises of the church and breaking the rules of behavior he had implicitly agreed to by entering – but definitely not a criminal prosecution with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

It’s also worth adding that the “motivations” part of the judge’s ruling, which she read aloud (the text file to be provided to the parties later), reportedly has passages like “the defendant has denied the existence of Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad,” making the whole thing look like the state persecuting a free-thinker for atheism. Which, to some degree, it is, as Navalny pointed out in his tweet, and the court’s apparent incompetence only serves to endorse this view of the trial.

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