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Man who played ‘Pokemon Go’ in Russian church faces years in prison

Last summer, Ruslan Sokolovsky entered the imposing Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg, a city about 1,000 miles east of Moscow.

The Russian Orthodox church holds special meaning for some, because it was supposedly built on the site where the last czar of Russia, Nicholas II, was murdered along with his family.

But Sokolovsky wasn’t there to worship or pay tribute to Russian history. Instead, the blogger wandered through the gilded rooms of the church, his eyes and fingers glued to his smartphone.

He was playing “Pokémon Go,” the app that allows users to “catch ’em all” using augmented reality.

“But, you know, I didn’t catch the rarest Pokémon that you could find there — Jesus,” Sokolovsky, an outspoken atheist, said at the end of a video he recorded that day. “They said it doesn’t even exist, so I’m not really surprised.”

At the time, Pokémon Go was experiencing an unprecedented craze that would ultimately die down in a matter of weeks.

However, the consequences for Sokolovsky would last long after he fired up the app on his phone last summer — and posted the video of his Pokémon Go-playing venture inside the church to YouTube .

After Russian officials discovered the footage, Sokolovsky was detained last fall and charged with inciting religious hatred.

On Friday, the last day of the trial, prosecutors in Russia requested a sentence of 3½ years in prison for Sokolovsky.

Ruslan Sokolovsky, a blogger who played Pokémon Go on his phone in a church, attends a hearing at a court in Yekaterinburg on March 13. (Konstantin Melnitskiy/Agence-France Presse via Getty Images)

Sokolovsky, now 22, protested that his potential punishment outweighed the crime.

“I may be an idiot, but I am by no means an extremist,” said Sokolovsky in a statement, according to the Russian news site Meduza .

He compared his suggested prison sentence, for joking about the Orthodox Church, to those who had been imprisoned for decades under Joseph Stalin for joking about communism.

“For me, this is savagery and barbarism,” Sokolovsky’s statement continued, according to Meduza. “I do not understand how this is at all possible. Nevertheless, as we have seen, it is quite possible indeed.”