You wouldn’t steal a car (as the old meme goes), but would you commit an act of terrorism in a video game? That question, or the answer to it, may have landed a couple of Russian teenagers in a significant degree of hot water, according to a report by BBC Russia released this week.
According to reports, a Russian court has sentenced 16-year-old student Nikita Uvarov from Kansk (Krasnoyarsk Territory) to five years in prison. His crime is "teaching terrorist activities", but what makes this case interesting is that at least a degree of his criminal activity was committed in Minecraft, the popular block-based game.
Behind closed doors
In a trial held behind closed doors, the 16-year-old was sentenced to five years in prison and a 30K RUB fine (approx. $400). Originally, three teenagers were arrested, but Uvarov was the only one sentenced to prison in the end (accomplices Denis Mikhailenko and Bogdan Andreyev were issued three and four-year suspended sentences, respectively). Uvarov's crime is listed as "undergoing training for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities (article 205.3 of the Criminal Code)."
The story starts in 2020, when the three (at that time) teenagers from Kansk were detained for posting leaflets around the city. The literature was posted in support of Azat Miftakhov, a Moscow student and anarchist accused of attempting to set fire to the office of United Russia. In an act of foolhardy bravery, the kids even posted the picture on the local Federal Security Service (FSB) building.
What makes the case really odd is the fact that at least part of the conviction was not based on any real-world activities, but the fact that Uvarov and his friends had taken their obsession into the blocky, colorful world of Minecraft. There, the trio had built a like-for-like representation of the FSB building in question, and apparently were planning to blow it up.
For those of you who play Minecraft, this will already be quite absurd, but for the uninitiated, the game is not a realistic simulacrum of the real world or the skills that would be required to destroy Russian government property. In other words, it’s quite hard to find a 1M square block of TNT and a flint and steel in modern Russia, and physics are different in Minecraft than they are in Moscow, making any training undertaken in the game somewhat useless.
Classics of anarchism
Other evidence used in the conviction, at least according to the BBC report, included the fact the kids are "fond of chemistry" and have read the "classics of anarchism", which are the sort of charges you’d expect to be leveled at a teenager in a Russian court with no public allowed. There are also allegations that Uvarov was convicted after his friends were put under heavy pressure to lie to authorities in order to provide evidence leading to a conviction.
"I'm just a child, I'm not a terrorist," Uravov said, denying the accusations.
Then again, the report also states that Russian courts, while trying minors, do not ever require a jury in such cases, despite people being criminally liable in that part of the world from the age of 14. There is even a case ongoing at the moment, with 14-year old Yaroslav Inozemtsev accused of plotting an act of terrorism, a charge his lawyers say is false, and based on nothing more than the child’s love of playing with firecrackers in the street.
Either way, the case is another example of virtual worlds providing evidence for real-life consequences, and a sobering reminder of the reality many millions of people live with every day under despotic regimes. For one 16 year old, it looks as though it’s also going to cost him at least half a decade during his formative years, and that is at least partly down to the fact he built, and planned to blow up a structure in Minecraft — a game made for children.