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Of Jesus And Zombies: Fresh Details In Case Of Russia's Pokemon Go Blogger

In a case that has drawn fire from international rights watchdogs, Ruslan Sokolovsky faces up to five years in prison for videos he posted on YouTube, including one of him playing Pokemon Go in a Yekaterinberg cathedral. (file photo)

New details in the case of a Russian blogger facing trial for playing Pokemon Go in a church offers some insight for iconoclasts in Russia who want to avoid prison: Don't liken Jesus to Pokemon, mythological Japanese characters, or zombies.

The Russian newspaper RBK got its hands on an analysis by "experts" that was attached to the case against Ruslan Sokolovsky, who was arrested last year in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on suspicion of impinging on the rights of religious believers and inciting hatred with YouTube videos he posted.

In one short, and at times profane, video, Sokolovsky is shown playing Pokemon Go in a Russian Orthodox Church in defiance of a warning made on state television that the game's enthusiasts risk a fine or prison for trying to catch "Pokemons" at religious sites or near Russia's borders.

In a case that has drawn fire from international rights watchdogs, Sokolovsky now faces up to five years in prison on 17 different counts for videos he posted from May 2013 to September 2016, RBK reported on February 16.

According to RBK, a key pillar of the prosecution's case against Sokolovsky is an analysis of the YouTube videos produced by "experts" from the Ural State Pedagogical University, a copy of which was obtained by the newspaper.

The authors concluded in the study that Sokolovsky's videos, among other things, negatively portrayed Christianity and Islam.

The blogger, who has more than 300,000 followers on YouTube, "denied the existence of God, of the founders of Christianity and Islam, ridiculed important religious precepts and ceremonies of Islam," RBK cited the analysis as saying.

It also said that Sokolovsky likened Jesus Christ not only to Pokemon, but also to protagonists of "Japanese mythology" and "the living dead -- zombies," RBK reported.

Free-Speech Concerns

The Russian Orthodox Church's influence on politics and society has steadily grown during President Vladimir Putin's 17 years in power. During his third term, most notably, he has stressed the importance of family values and touted the church as a central part of Russian identity.

Sokolovsky has been charged under a controversial 2013 law making it a crime to "insult the religious convictions or feelings of citizens." Critics of the legislation say it infringes on free speech and is incompatible with the officially secular Russian state.

He has also been charged under a law that criminalizes the "incitement of hatred" based on gender, race, ethnicity, language, ancestry, or religious persuasion.

Sokolovsky's lawyer, Aleksei Bushmakov, is seeking to have the analysis by the university "experts" tossed out of the case, saying the conclusions in the document were "outside of the expertise" of the authors, RBK reported.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

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