Twitter's "Darth Putin" returns after disappearance

A screengrab of the @darthputinKGB Twitter account

MOSCOW - A pair of twitter accounts mocking Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appear to have gone dark for a brief time this week, raising the outrage of social media users.

Several Twitter accounts similar to DarthPutinKGB and SovietSergey became unavailable for a time starting on Tuesday. So far the social media company has not explained their disappearance.

The parody Putin account had attracted more than 50,000 followers before it was shut down. The link to the account said it was suspended for a time Tuesday. Lavrov's parody account along with two others mocking the Russian Embassy in London and the Russian ambassador were restored and available to users after a reported suspension on Tuesday. The account for Darth Putin was active again on Wednesday.

Social media users launched the #NoGulagForDarthPutinKGB hashtag on Twitter in protest.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, an avid social media user, condemned the suspension, calling it "one of the funniest parody accounts around."

The Kremlin has taken aggressive steps against its critics in both the traditional media and social media. At least 54 people were sent to prison for hate speech last year, most of them for sharing and posting things online, which is almost five times as many as five years ago, according to the Moscow-based Sova group, which studies human rights, nationalism and xenophobia in Russia.