Russian authorities ban Putin ‘gay clown’ meme but fail to investigate homophobic killings

After the Russian government banned a digitally altered image depicting President Vladimir Putin wearing lipstick and mascara – widely reported in global media as a “gay clown” meme – Sergei Nikitin, Director of Amnesty International’s Moscow office, said:

“In its twisted definition of justice, the Russian authorities have chosen to use anti-extremism legislation to silence peaceful freedom of expression at a time when state-supported homophobia inspires violence across the country.

“Rather than clamping down on political satire, the state should be using the machinery of justice to investigate the recent horrific reports of mass abduction, torture and killings of gay men in Chechnya.”


It emerged this week that the satirical image of President Putin in make-up – which carries the caption, “Putin voters… they say there are lots of them, but there aren’t any among the people I know” – has been added to the Ministry of Justice’s list of banned “extremist materials”.

The image first appeared in response to a 2013 law banning “propaganda of homosexuality among minors”, a law which restricts human rights and has fuelled homophobia.

The Ministry of Justice website said the picture implies the “alleged nonstandard sexual orientation of the President of the Russian Federation.” It was banned by the Central District court of Tver, Central Russia in May 2016, along with other images uploaded to the Russian social media platform Vkontakte by defendant Aleksandr Tsvetkov.

Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported on 1 April that at least 100 men believed to be gay had been abducted in Russia’s Chechnya region and three had been killed, apparently as part of a coordinated homophobic campaign.