Russia Threatens Legal Action Over Newspaper Image of Putin As Clown

  • Russia’s Swiss embassy threatened a newspaper with legal action over an image it published.
  • The Neue Zürcher Zeitung included an image of Putin as a clown in an article on memes.
  • Officials said “insults and fakes” were beyond the limits of free speech, and threatened to report it.

Russian officials threatened a Swiss newspaper with a legal action after it published an image depicting President Vladimir Putin as a clown.

Zurich newspaper the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, published the piece “Between Superheroes and Villains: The Power of Memes in the Ukraine War.” It discussed how viral images played a part in discussion of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The lead image featured Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as Iron Man next Putin with a clown nose and colorful face paint.

Its intent appears to have been to illustrate the type of imagery used, rather than to argue that the newspaper or its writers consider Putin to be a clown.

Russia’s embassy in Switzerland responded with a letter to the newspaper’s editor, describing itself as “extremely outraged” by the image.

The letter argued that freedom of speech was not an excuse to publish “insults and fakes.”

It took special offense at the rainbow colors on Putin’s face, citing his hostility to LGBTQ people.

It also objected to what it called the depiction in the article of Putin as a war criminal, a common charge among Ukrainians, human-rights observers and Western officials.

The message ended with a reference to Switzerland’s defamation laws and said the officials “reserve the right… to apply to the Swiss law enforcement agencies” to take action over the image.

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