British actor Stephen Fry
Moscow – Arab Today
Russia on Wednesday faced a mounting campaign against its hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi after passing what campaigners called "barbaric"
anti-gay legislation, six months before the opening of its biggest ever sporting event.
British actor Stephen Fry called for Russia to be barred from hosting the Games in the Black Sea resort while gay rights campaigners handed over a 320,000-signature petition to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) urging it to condemn the law.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in June signed into law legislation that punishes the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors but which activists say can be used for a broad crackdown against gays.
The controversial law has prompted a boycott of Russian vodka in the United States and criticism from pop stars including Madonna and Lady Gaga ahead of the Games which open on February 7, 2014.
Fry, an openly gay actor and author, published an open letter to the IOC and British Prime Minister David Cameron calling for the IOC to deprive Russia of its right to host the games in Sochi.
"The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma" lower house of parliament, Fry wrote on his personal website.
"An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 in Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillehammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world," he added.
Fry boasts six million followers on Twitter and is a well-known figure in Russia through his television roles, particularly in the Jeeves and Wooster series based on the books by P.G. Wodehouse, and his novels.
He visited the country in March this year to interview one of the initiators of the anti-gay law in Saint Petersburg.
Gay rights campaigners meanwhile handed over a 320,000-signature petition to the IOC at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, urging it to condemn the laws.
"I urge the International Olympic Committee to listen to the more than 300,000 people who have signed Athlete Ally and All Out petitions urging world leaders to speak out against Russia's anti-gay laws," four-time Olympic champion diver Greg Louganis said in a joint statement issued by the two groups.
"The IOC should urge Russia to repeal their anti-gay laws ahead of the 2014 Olympic Games rather than simply suspending the laws during the games. No one should be satisfied until these dangerous laws are repealed and all Russians are treated with dignity under the law," he added.
An IOC spokeswoman confirmed that it had received the activists' petition and "engaged in an open and constructive discussion" with them.
There is growing concern that the law banning "gay propaganda" could be used against athletes at the games.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak was on Wednesday quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that the law would not "infringe on rights of people based on sexual orientation, either at the Olympics, or before or after," as long as children were not involved.
Speaking in Sochi, he said gay sportsmen could "get on with their private life, including telling adults about its advantages and attractiveness, but not involve children".
Meanwhile, the foreign ministry's rights envoy Konstantin Dolgov slammed any criticisms of the law as "absolutely invalid and baseless" and "undoubtedly counterproductive" in comments to Interfax.
He nevertheless stressed that all visitors and participants in the games must "strictly follow the Russian laws and respect the customs and traditions of our country".
Foreigners found guilty of violating the law can not only be fined up to 5,000 rubles ($156, 114 euros) but face administrative arrest of up to 15 days and eventual deportation.
Gay activists have also been calling for a boycott of Russian vodka, whose brands have traditionally been popular in gay clubs. Meanwhile the hashtags #BoycottRussia and #BoycottSochi have become increasingly popular on Twitter.
Pop star Lady Gaga called the Russian government "criminal" on her Twitter account this week, and told gay people in the country: "You are not alone. We will fight for your freedom."