Russian blogger convicted for inciting religious hatred

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Ruslan Sokolovsky awaits sentencing in a Russian court. Image courtesy of Reuters.

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky was convicted by a Russian criminal court on May 11 for insulting religious beliefs and inciting hatred. These actions are criminal offenses under Russian criminal codes.

The conviction comes after nearly a year of criminal proceedings after his arrest. Last August, Sokolovsky entered an Orthodox church in Yekaterinburg while playing the augmented reality game Pokémon Go on his smartphone. He had posted a video of himself playing the game on YouTube. At the end of the video, he said what many perceived to be an anti-religious insult. Sokolovsky’s YouTube channel included other videos that were seen as being against the Russian Orthodox Church.

After searching his apartment in September, authorities arrested Sokolovsky. They initiated another charge against him in January after months of house arrest. Sokolovsky had pled not guilty to any of the charges.

Religion has not always been a concern in Russia. Before the past few years, Russia was officially an atheistic country with no state religion. The Kremlin is now known to use religion as a means of pushing a state agenda. This year the highest court in the country banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, claiming they are an extremist group. In 2012, two members of the anti-Putin band Pussy Riot were charged with inciting religious hatred, the same conviction that Sokolovsky faces.

“Insult” was added as a crime to the criminal code of Russia after the members of Pussy Riot were arrested. According to Human Rights Watch, the crime of insult is defined as “a public action expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to insult the religious feelings of believers”. Critics see these laws as restrictions on freedom of expression.

Sokolovsky will face a suspended jail sentence of 3 and ½ years. He will also have to perform 160 hours of community service and cannot be seen in public places where people are meeting.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Russian Who Played Pokemon Go in Church Convicted of Inciting Hatred – 11 May 2017 

BBC News – Pokemon Go: Russian Blogger Suspended – 11 May 2017

Reuters – Russian court gives suspended sentenced to man who played Pokemon Go in church – 11 May 2017

Human Rights Watch – Russia: Pokemon Go Blogger Convicted – 11 May 2017

ECOWAS Calls on ICC to Investigate “War Crimes” in Mali

By Tara Pistorese
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

BAMAKO, Mali—The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has called for the formation of a Malian “national unity government” in light of present humanitarian disaster.

Islamists Gain Ground Against Tuareg Rebels. (Photo Courtesy of Mail and Guardian)

Led by Captain Amadou Sanogo, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a largely Tuareg rebel group, staged a coup d’état on March 22, ousting former President Amadou Toumani Toure one month before elections were to take place. The Islamist group, Ansar Dine, meaning “Defenders of Faith,” soon joined the rebellion.

The coup was internationally condemned by the United Nations Security Council, the African Union, and ECOWAS, among others.  After facing considerable regional and international pressure, the rebels agreed to relinquish power over the area to a civilian government. However, the coup stagers have retained substantial influence in the northern parts of the country.

The instability of the current interim government, led by President Dioncounda Traore, has alarmed the international community, especially considering of the eighteen million people presently at risk of starvation and one million children facing immediate danger.

In May, President Traore sustained injuries after a group of coup supporters attacked him in his office. He has been treated in Paris, France and has not returned to Mali since the incident. The rebel alliance, too, has recently ruptured as Islamist fighters reportedly chased Tuareg rebels out of several northern towns.

Last week, Islamist fighters invaded cemeteries housing the remains of Sufi Saints of Timbuktu, a city listed on the World Heritage List by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as one of particular international significance.

The rebels, who believed the memorial to be inconsistent with Islamic law, methodically destroyed the six of the most famous tombs, an attack that may be considered a “war crime” by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“The destruction of historical sites is outrageous,” said UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson. “Extremist groups and criminal networks are spreading rampant fear and insecurity. Weapons are being [trafficked] over porous borders.”

Earlier this month, six West Africa leaders met in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and, after considering the crisis in northern Mali, identified strategies for Malian authorities to implement as a “roadmap to end the crisis.”

Although leaders of the Ivory Coast, Niger, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria, attended the meeting, the interim Malian President and the nation’s Prime Minister, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, whose relations with ECOWAS have been strained, were absent. In a similar vein, a number of northern representatives walked out just prior to the opening of the meeting for unknown reasons.

While some blame the President’s nonattendance on the attack suffered in May, others believe his failure to report had more to do with his perceptions of Mali.

In addition to the formation of a new regime, ECOWAS and the United Nations (UN) has urged Malian leaders to end the political strife in Mali by July 31, before the Ramadan Muslim month of fasting. According to ECOWAS, failure to do so will result in Mali’s suspension from sub-regional groups and forfeiture of ECOWAS recognition.

Furthermore, ECOWAS has encouraged President Traore to request the deployment of ECOWAS forces to restore order to the area. ECOWAS has approximately 3,300 troops ready to enter the conflict zone.

“[The leaders] are asking the ICC to proceed with necessary investigations to identify those responsible for war crimes and to take the necessary action against them,” read a statement issued by ECOWAS.

However, in a telephone conversation from an undisclosed location in northern Mali, a representative told Al Jazeera that Ansar Dine did not recognize either the UN or the ICC.



For further information, please see:

Xinhuanet—Leaders at AU Summit Express Deep Concern with Crisis in Mali, DR Congo—15 July 2012

Al Jazeera—ECOWAS Call on ICC Over “War Crimes” in Mali—7 July 2012

BBC News: Africa—Mali Interim Government Urged by ECOWAS—7 July 2012

Raw Story—West African Presidents Urge War Crimes Probe in Mali—7 July 2012