Pokemon Go The Latest Tool For Russian Government To Silence Speakers It Doesn't Like

from the putin-me-on dept

On the list of countries I’ve always wanted to visit but would be somewhat scared if I did, Russia is probably near the top. While there are certainly more dangerous parts of the world for any variety of reasons, I’ve found that the thing that gets me in the most trouble is my big mouth — and the Russian government has made a habit of coming down on any kind of speech it doesn’t like with a hand heavier than a Russian bear. This government uses its own laws in perverse ways to accomplish this, notably its laws that make it illegal to offend others on religious grounds, as seen chiefly in its treatment of punk band Pussy Riot.

This use of religious protectionism has proceeded to the present. The Russian government recently announced that it was locking up a noted atheist blogger for two months. His crime? Playing Pokemon Go in a church.

On Saturday, Russian officials announced that atheist vlogger Ruslan Sokolovsky has been detained for two months for “inciting hatred” and “insulting religious feelings” after posting a video of himself playing Pokémon Go inside a historic cathedral. He reportedly faces up to five years in jail if convicted.

Now, the sensible amongst you are surely wondering how simply playing a mobile game in a church rises to the level of inciting hatred or insulting religious feelings. It doesn’t, generally, and even those benefiting from the actions of the Russian government admit as much in their forward justification of the Russian government’s heavy-handed action.

According to Meduza, police began investigating Sokolovsky soon after, finally detaining the 22-year-old vlogger this weekend. In a statement, Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoyda claimed it was the provocative nature of Sokolovsky’s video—and not playing the game itself—that led to his arrest.

“It is clear that Mr. Sokolovsky was not a casual passerby, who in a fit of gaming passion went into the temple, but rather a well-known young blogger in the city, who works in the style of Charlie Hebdo,” wrote Vladimir Legoyda on Facebook.

In other words, it wasn’t the game that made Sokolovsky a target; it was who he was and what he’s said. Not content to keep its religious citizenry from having to endure direct confrontational speech, instead the government has decided that indirect speech that it doesn’t like, in this case posted on social media, is fair game under the law as well. And, while Sokolovsky knowingly flouted the law as a protest, that should be terrifying to anyone who holds free speech as an ideal, because now this government is suggesting that it can jail people for speech it decides is offensive, even when the speech wasn’t directed at the supposedly offended.

And that’s an open license for a government to simply lock up anyone it wants. While we rightly point out when western governments get questions of free speech incorrect, and they do, it’s helpful to remember there are places where it’s much, much worse.

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Comments on “Pokemon Go The Latest Tool For Russian Government To Silence Speakers It Doesn't Like”

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20 Comments
JBDragon (profile) says:

Re: And the church says?

Thrown in jail is wrong, but the rude person playing PokemonGo in a church should be thrown out on their butt!!! You get a big guy, grab the idiot, and throw his/her butt right out the door.

It’s like all manners and brains go out the window playing this dumb game. It’s one thing going to a park, but it’s another doing it in a Church, or someone’s Backyard, and other dumb places.

Prashanth (profile) says:

Authoritarians and Pokemon

What is with authoritarians hating Pokemon? Are they afraid that their true dreams of being a Pokemon master will be unmasked, leading to embarrassment and shame?
More seriously, I remember my mother telling me many years ago (in my Pokemon-obsessed childhood years), as a way of weaning me off of that obsession, that Turkey had banned Pokemon because kids were jumping off of buildings in imitation of their favorite Pokemon types flying (or whatever). Even then, I sensed something didn’t add up with that story, and much more recently, I’ve read that it was a story invented by the Turkish government to hide the fact that they were doing it because they felt it was somehow subversive. It makes me wonder what element of subversion was involved in Pokemon then, and also why few media outlets reporting this at that time seemed to catch on to Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian behaviors.

Anonymous Coward says:

What would happen here in the USA if someone were to sneak a camera into a Mormon temple and make a disrespectful video about the Mormon Church? I would think the video would be taken down from any social media platform and if the identity of the person were known that person would most likely be charged with trespassing and any other relevant crime. Jail time would be a possibility, I’d imagine, especially if the crime occurred in Utah. Many of us would complain that this was too harsh, but others would support it. Put into perspective I think what happens in Russia is not that much different from what happens here. (And btw I would consider traveling through Russia to be much less dangerous than traveling through Mexico, any country in South America, Africa, or southeast Asia.)

Anonymous Coward says:

The russian government uses laws against insulting religion to give it more power to imprison people it does not like like or to reduce human rights and the right to free speech.
The church should be standing up for freedom and for the right for any person to visit a church.
When the church rules become part of the law of the state its bad news for the rights of any citizen whether
you are a religious person or not.
And many people in russia have been sent to prison or discriminated against
for being jewish or catholic before putin came to
power .

Ben (profile) says:

First sentence in the article

On the list of countries I’ve always wanted to visit but would be somewhat scared if I did, Russia is probably near the top.

And for those of us who’ve actually visited Russia (whilst it was still the USSR, as a matter of fact), consider that the US is also ‘near the top’ of the list. (for very small distances of ‘near’)

shane (profile) says:

Atheists Complaining about the State

Russia is still for the most part an Atheistic state apparatus. The “Church” in Russia is mostly dominated by the Russian Orthodox, which itself is dominated by the government. This is much the same with the official churches in Europe.

Americans trying to comment on what is going on in either Europe or Russia without realizing these things do a lot of damage to the truth.

An atheist playing Pokemon in church might well be offensive to religious people, especially an outspoken atheist who openly mocks their beliefs. Pussy Riot… well… Look at their name.

I’m sorry, but in an age where you all have decided that Christians need to be ashamed of opposing infanticide and the abandonment of children to wildly inappropriate sexual practices, it is very, very difficult for me to be upset that Russia is supporting its state church in much the same fashion that you are supporting yours – State Sponsored Atheism.

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