A Russian YouTuber could face five years in jail after he filmed himself playing Pokémon Go in a church.
Ruslan Sokolovsky was filmed catching Pokémon in the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg at the beginning of August, when the Pokémon Go hype was at its height.
At the start of the YouTube video, which by now has been watched more than 900,000 times, the vlogger refers to news reports warning players could be jailed if they played the game in the church.
Sokolovsky says: “How can one offend by entering a church with a smartphone?
“I decided to just catch some Pokemon in church because, why not?
“I believe it’s both safe and not prohibited by law. Let’s go.”
Police began investigating Sokolovsky shortly after the video was posted on 11 August.
In a statement released on Saturday, the local investigation committee said a 21-year-old had been charged with inciting hatred and offending religious sensibilities and detained for two months. It added that the penalty could reach up to five years in prison. It is the same offence that sent two women from the Pussy Riot punk collective to prison for two years in 2012.
Sokolovsky, who has almost 300,000 subscribers on YouTube, has previously made videos criticising the Russian church. His video was picked up by Russian media, Sokolovsky made a series of followup videos discussing the reaction.
A number of Russian figures reacted to the news of Sokolovsky’s incarceration over the weekend.
Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoyda posted on his Facebook page saying Sokolovsky is a “well-known” young blogger “who works in the style of Charlie Hebdo”. He said he had not been arrested for catching Pokémon.
Yevgeny Roizman, the mayor of Yekaterinburg, said the arrest was a “disgrace”. “You can’t arrest a man for idiocy,” he added.
Twitter supporters of the vlogger posted under the hashtag #FreeSokolvsky. Among his supporters are punk collective Pussy Riot.
Russia has had a contentious relationship with Pokémon Go, which has not officially been released in the country. Russian officials have openly criticised Niantic’s game. Communications minister Nikolai Nikiforov told the Moscow Times he suspected “intelligence services might have contributed to this app”.
Since his arrest, there have been reports that activists in St Petersburg were planning to catch Pokémon in the Kazan Cathedral. Lawyer Arkady Chaplygin, member of the Russian branch of the Progress party, posted on Russian social media site VKontakte urging others to join him in playing Pokémon to protest Sokolovsky’s arrest.
Whether the campaigners’ efforts will be successful in securing Sokolovsky’s release remains to be seen.
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