Images of Putin, often with rouged cheeks and eye shadow, have been online since 2011 — and have had much wider circulation since 2013 in protest over what became known as Russia’s gay propaganda law. They are widely known online as the “gay clown” meme — although not all the images resemble clowns.
The law, which describes homosexuality as “non-traditional sexual relations,” bars the public discussion of gay rights and relationships anywhere children might hear it. It has been fiercely opposed by gay rights groups in Russia and beyond as well as by other human rights groups and the political opposition in Russia.
The circulation of the images first came before the courts last year in Tver, a city northwest of Moscow.