Russian man convicted of playing Pokémon Go in a church

Video game was a viral hit in 2016

A Russian man, who posted footage of himself playing Pokémon Go in a church, has been convicted for “inciting religious hatred”.

Ruslan Sokolovsky posted his clip on YouTube at the height of the game’s popularity in August 2016.

Today (May 11), he was given a given a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence by a court in Yekaterinburg.

Sokolovsky had been detained since October and was facing up to five years in prison.

He told The Guardian following the sentence: “Without the support from reporters, I would possibly have been given a real prison sentence.”

Judge Yekaterina Shoponyak said Sokolovsky’s videos manifested his “disrespect for society” and that he “intended to offend religious sentiments”.

The video shows Sokolovsky playing the game in the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg and referring to local news reports that warned people from playing it in Russia’s churches. It has since been watched more than a million times.

He said at the time: “How can one offend by entering a church with a smartphone? I decided to just catch some Pokémon in church because, why not? I believe it’s both safe and not prohibited by law. Let’s go.”

Sokolovsky’s arrest last year was criticised on social media, where his supporters rallied under the hashtag #FreeSokolovsky. Among them were Pussy Riot, who took to Twitter to respond to his suspended sentence.

They wrote: “Ruslan Sokolovsky who caught a pokemon in a church got 3.5 years of probation. Not prison though – and it’s already great news.”

Read more: Why Pikachu is one of NME’s 2016 ‘People Of The Year

Pokémon Go was a massive success upon its release in many other countries last summer. It became the most successful mobile game in US history and was briefly as popular as Twitter and more popular than Tinder.

Other new Pokémon were added to Pokémon Go last December in the latest update to the viral game. These include Pichu (which evolves into Pikachu), Magby (evolves into Magmar), Elekid (evolves into Electabuzz), Cleffa (evolves into Clefairy), Igglypuff (evolves into Jigglypuff) and Smoochum (evolves into Jynx).