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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Filed Under: censorship, free speech, pokemon go, russia


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2016 @ 7:39am

    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.)

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