Legal Case of the Week: Ruslan Sokolovsky

posted 15 May 2017, 06:11 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 May 2017, 06:11 ]
On 11 May 2017 22-year-old blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky was given a three-and-a-half year suspended prison sentence by a court in Ekaterinburg for ‘inciting hatred’ and ‘offending believers’ feelings’ after filming himself playing Pokémon Go in a cathedral. As Amnesty International reported, Ruslan Sokolovsky had been arrested in September 2016 under charges of 'public actions expressing clear disrespect to society with the aim to insult religious feelings of believers committed in places for religious worship' and 'incitement of hatred' after publishing a video of himself playing Pokémon Go in a cathedral in Ekaterinburg. Ruslan Sokolovsky was convicted under Article 282 (incitement of hatred or enmity and humiliation of human dignity) and Article 148 (violation of the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion) of the Russian Criminal Code.

Sergei Nikitin, director of Amnesty International Russia, said: "While some may see Ruslan Sokolovsky’s comments on religion as disparaging, this alone is not enough to prosecute him. Sokolovsky came to the attention of the authorities only when he publicly challenged absurdly harsh Russian legislation that criminalized offending believers’ feelings. With Sokolovsky’s conviction, the Russian authorities send a strong message to anyone who wants to challenge the country’s grotesque ‘blasphemy’ law. Make no mistake, this is neither piety nor a genuine effort to protect the freedom of religion in Russia – especially coming after the authorities only last month banned Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is another assault on freedom of expression.”

Yulia Gorbunova, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “It’s a relief that Sokolovsky is not behind bars, but the fact that he was prosecuted and convicted remains a prime example of the Russian authorities using vague and broad anti-extremist laws to stifle free speech and promote self-censorship. Sokolovsky’s actions may have offended some or indeed many, but they present no public danger and criminal sanctions against him are groundless incursions on the right to free expression.”

Following his arrest, Memorial Human Rights Centre recognized Ruslan Sokolovsky as a political prisoner.

Aleksandr Podrabinek, a journalist and human rights defender, pointed out in an article that "The prosecutor in the trial of the case of Ruslan Sokolovsky [...] accused the defendant of not respecting the State. 'An expression of disrespect for the State is inadmissible,' Prosecutor Ekaterina Kalinina stated. Moreover, she accused Sokolovsky of “anti-constitutional 'attitudes' and 'ridiculing the Russian president.'" Aleksandr Podrabinek went on to ask: "What does any of this have to do with the law? [...] Why is a legal professional in court accusing a defendant of something that does not fall within the framework of the law?"

Also commenting on the case, journalist and human rights defender Zoya Svetova, said in an article published before the conviction of Ruslan Sokolovsky: "The charge and criminal case against Ruslan Sokolovsky is the latest stupid joke bringing to mind what was far from the best time in Russian history. Ruslan Sokolovsky made this point in his final address to the court: ‘There was a time, long long ago, when people were sentenced to the camps for longer than three and a half years, for as long as ten, for telling obscene jokes about Stalin or communism. Today I am to be sentenced to three and a half years for an obscene joke about Russian orthodoxy and Patriarch Kirill. As far as I am concerned, this is simply savage and barbaric, I don’t understand how such a thing is possible. However, as can be seen, it is perfectly possible – a sentence of three and a half years is being asked for’."

Photo of Ruslan Sokolovsky: Memorial Human Rights Centre

'Russian YouTuber convicted of blasphemy after playing Pokémon Go in a church,' Amnesty International, 11 May 2017
'Russia: Pokemon Go Blogger Convicted. Set Aside Unlawful Verdict on Extremism Charges,' Human Rights Watch, 11 May 2017
'Александр Подрабинек: Откровенные времена,' Radio Svoboda, 9 May 2017 [translation by Rights in Russia: 'Aleksandr Podrabinek: Candid Times,' Rights in Russia, 9 May 2017'
'Zoya Svetova on the case of the vlogger Ruslan Sokolovsky: "A Feeling of Outrage" [Radio Svoboda],' Rights in Russia, 3 May 2017
'ПЦ "Мемориал" считает видеоблогера Руслана Соколовского политзаключенным,', 5 December 2016