An image of a gay couple locked in a tender embrace on Thursday won the prestigious World Press Photo award, highlighting the plight of sexual minorities in Russia, judges said.
Danish photographer Mads Nissen shot his evocative winning picture of "Jon and Alex" in a bare room in Saint Petersburg, with only a dark brown curtain as a backdrop. One of the men lies with his eyes closed, while the other tenderly looks at him, their hands locked together.
Russia's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community has come under increasing attacks in Russia, with the government earlier this year passing a controversial law banning transvestites and transsexuals from driving.
In 2013, Putin signed a law banning the so-called "propaganda" of gay relationships to minors, despite an outcry from rights groups, Western governments and celebrities including Madonna.
Nissen's winning picture is part of his larger project called "Homophobia in Russia" and also won first prize in the Contemporary Issues category.
AFP's Istanbul-based photographer Bulent Kilic also won first and third prizes in the Spot News category, Singles, for two haunting images taken in Turkey and Syria.
AFP photographer Kilic's first photo is of a young girl, wounded and dripping with water, found after clashes between riot police and protestors following the funeral of Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old boy who died from his injuries during last year's anti-government protests in Turkey.
Kilic's second picture captures the exact moment of an air strike against IS fighters on a Syrian hilltop in October 2014.
Speaking about Nissen's winning photograph, jury chairwoman Michelle McNally said "it is a historic time for the image... the winning image needs to be aesthetic, to have impact and have the potential to become iconic."
"This photo is aesthetically powerful, and it has humanity," said McNally, who is The New York Times' director of photography and assistant managing editor. (AFP)