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Olympic boycott urged over Russia gay rights

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Calls are growing for a boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics in Russia in protest at what campaigners have called its "barbaric" new homophobic laws - reports Sky News.

Broadcaster Stephen Fry has appealed directly to David Cameron and members of the International Olympic Committee [IOC] to stop the games being held in Russia, comparing Vladimir Putin’s treatment of gay people to Adolf Hitler’s treatment of Jew. He said allowing the games to go ahead in Putin’s Russia would be comparable to the decision to hold the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. Four-time Olympic champion diver Greg Louganis yesterday delivered a 320,000 signature petition to IOC headquarters in Switzerland, urging it to condemn Russia’s "anti-gay laws".

US President Barack Obama said earlier this week: "I think they [Putin and Russia] understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn't tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently."  Asked by TV host Jay Leno whether this was "like Germany: let's round up the Jews, let's round up the gays," President Obama replied: "I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in a way that intimidate them or are harmful to them." The White House later cancelled a planned meeting with President Putin in Moscow, primarily over Russia’s decision to grant whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum, but also citing a lack of progress on human rights among a number of issues of concern.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed a new bill into law in June banning "homosexual propaganda" - making it illegal to give anyone under 18 information about homosexuality. Anyone deemed to be promoting gay rights, or "non-traditional relationships" to young people in Russia could now be arrested and fined, or in the case of foreigners, detained and deported. Critics say the law is intentionally vaguely-worded and part of a broader crackdown on gay rights in Russia. The country’s sports minister has said the law will apply to athletes and spectators at the Sochi games, due to be held in the Russian Black Sea resort in February 2014.

In an open letter to the British Prime Minister and IOC, Stephen Fry said: "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. "An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. "Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world. "He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it."

Leading Russian LGBT rights campaigner Nikolai Alexeyev, head of the organisation Gay Russia, told Sky News it had seen an increase in homophobic violence since the introduction of the law. He said: "The situation is deteriorating in the last months due to the very big discussions around the law banning homosexual propaganda. "Of course this law gave a sort of carte blanche top to the anti-gay people - anti-gay activists - to further attack LGBT people. "We saw in recent months a rise in homophobic crimes, we saw that several people were killed on the basis of hatred towards LGBT people. "The situation is very tense now due to this law and the forthcoming Olympic Games, which is now very much linked to this gay topic due to the outrage from the international community."

The controversial law has also prompted a campaign to boycott Russian vodka in the United States, as well as criticism from pop stars including Madonna and Lady Gaga. In a message on her Twitter account earlier this week, Lady Gaga called the Russian government "criminal". She added: "Why didn't you arrest me when you had the chance, Russia? Because you didn't want answer to the world?”" “Oppression will be met with revolution. Russian LGBTs you are not alone. We will fight for your freedom.”

An IOC spokeswoman confirmed it had received a petition from activists and said it had "engaged in an open and constructive discussion" with them. Speaking in Sochi on Wednesday, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said 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. He said gay athletes could "get on with their private life, including telling adults about its advantages and attractiveness, but not involve children". 

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