Russia: Putin satire as "extremist material" on prohibition list

by Ingo Beckendorf

A Russian central district court has forbidden a cartoon showing President Vladimir Putin as a drag queen. Together with 4,000 other pieces of content, the picture is now on a list of supposedly extremist material. This means further censorship on Russian platforms.

Putin cartoon 900X600 Illustration of Putin's face - NOT the one referred to in the article. (Photo: public domain)

The caricature, which portrays Putin as a rouged drag queen, was shared many times on the internet. The Russian Ministry of Justice publishes the list with "extremist material", on which the cartoon is described with the following features: "Putin, […] colored eyelashes and lips". The fabrication or distribution of contents on this list are forbidden.

The banned picture was made already four years ago. A Russian citizen created the cartoon as a protest against a government act forbidding "homosexual propaganda". The artist shared the caricature on the Russian social network In the list entry, the artist of the poster is assumed, and that he would show Putin as a homosexual.

The decision fits into a series of censorship measures in Russia.

In 2007, a law was passed in Russia leading to the list of "extremist material". Since the decree, the list has expanded to 4,000 items, including religious writings and also political diatribes such as Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.      

The Russian NGO Sova Center describes how the Russian government fights against alleged extremism on the internet. The number of convicted persons rose, for example, because they spread swastikas in a historical context.

The Russian government has extended censorship measures for many years, such as via web blocking. Last summer, the government adopted a data retention law with a storage period of 36 months. 

Internet censorship in the Russian Federation is enforced based on the Russian Internet Restriction Bill, the federal law "On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development", among others. The legislation is outlined in a government decree issued on 26 October 2012.

The blacklist was originally introduced to block sites that contain materials advocating drug abuse and production, suicide, and child pornography. Later, the law was amended to allow the blocking of sites containing materials that advocate extremism or any other content subject to a gag order. These regulations have been frequently criticised for being abused to block criticism of the federal government or local administration.

In addition to that, various aspects of the contemporary press freedom situation in Russia are criticised by multiple international organisations. The Russian Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, government application of law, bureaucratic regulations, and politically motivated criminal investigations have forced the press to exercise self-censorship constraining its coverage of certain controversial issues, resulting in infringements of these rights.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Russian government exerts control over civil society through selective implementation of the law, restriction and censure.

Ingo Beckendorf works as freelance expert for the Institute of European Media Law (EMR) in Saarebruck/Brussels.


A report on the subject is online, available here.

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –