Ruslan Sokolovsky plays Pokémon Go in a church in Yekaterinburg, Russia. (Ruslan Sokolovsky via YouTube)

Ruslan Sokolovsky is an irreverent 21-year-old Russian video blogger in Yekaterinburg, in the steppes about 800 miles east of Moscow. His YouTube channel, which has nearly 300,000 subscribers, features riffs on the news, rants about religion and sardonic science experiments. Early this year, he started an atheist magazine inspired by Charlie Hebdo.

Since being jailed last week, Sokolovsky has also become a crusader for Russians' right to play Pokémon Go in church.

The popular augmented reality game has never appealed to Russian authorities, and many have called for its ban. The game was pointless, said some. It disturbed public order, said others. According to one leader of the patriotic Cossacks, Pokémon Go "reeks of Satanism."

This summer, Russian television broadcasters warned Pokémon Go enthusiasts that they could face three years in prison, per blasphemy laws, for playing the game in church. This disturbed Sokolovsky, who wondered in a video uploaded this August: "Who can ever be offended by you walking around a church with your smartphone? Why the f‑‑k would they lock you up for that?"

He decided to investigate by playing Pokémon Go at a local Orthodox cathedral, because, in his words, "Why not?"

The video (warning: contains profanity) shows Sokolovsky playing the game on his phone in front of lit church candles, while prayers can be heard in the background. His video's soundtrack alternated between Orthodox music and the Pokémon theme song. At the end of the clip, Sokolovsky concluded that the venture was successful because nobody "disturbed" him, though he failed to catch "the rarest Pokémon that you could find there — Jesus."

"They say it [sic] doesn't even exist," Sokolovsky shrugged, "so I'm not really surprised."

Sokolovsky didn't avoid retribution for long. On Sept. 2, police raided his home and detained him, the Moscow Times reported. According to the Associated Press, he was denied bail and has appealed his arrest while he remains in prison until at least November. He is charged with insulting religious beliefs.

The law against offending religious sensibilities was enacted in Russia after Pussy Riot, the feminist punk band, staged a protest concert at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012. They called their performance "Punk Prayer: Mother of God, Cast Putin Out!" in response to church leaders' support for Russian President Vladimir Putin during the election. The band members were charged with "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred," and two of them spent nearly two years in prison.

The punishment divided Russian opinion. Leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church roundly condemned Pussy Riot, calling their concert an attack on the country's Christian identity. Meanwhile, more than 100 Russian actors and public figures signed a letter calling for the musicians' release, the state-funded RT news agency reported.

"Russia is a secular state, and no anti-clerical action can be reason for a criminal prosecution, unless it violates the criminal code," the letter said.

In 2013, precisely such a law was passed, as the Russian parliament decided that those convicted of "insulting religious feelings" could be fined up to half a million rubles or jailed for up to three years. Those who publicly desecrated religious books and artifacts would also face penalties.

Lawmakers who supported the bill said they intended to protect those who "practice traditional forms of religion [against constant] threats of various kinds." But critics saw the law as an encroachment on freedom of expression, as well as an affront to the nation's secularism.

Nina Pelevina, a police spokeswoman, wrote in a Facebook statement that Sokolovsky's arrest was incited not by the Pokémon Go video alone. Pelevina said Sokolovsky was living in Yekaterinburg without the required documentation and that a small amount of drugs were found in his apartment.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, one of the Pussy Riot members previously jailed, tweeted her support for the young blogger along with a picture of an angry Pikachu.

Russia is not the only place where the Pokémon Go fad has run afoul with authorities. In India, a high court in the state of Gujarat sent notices Wednesday that it decided to hear a complaint alleging that the augmented reality game tramples “religious sentiments” by depicting Pokémon characters in temples and other places of worship, including showing egg-shaped Pokémon figures in some Hindu sites where non-vegetarian food is banned.

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