British actor Sir Ian McKellen and 27 Nobel laureates have demanded that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin repeals the country’s homophobic legislation.

The move comes just days ahead of the Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi.

“Protest is never easy but we hope that by expressing opposition to the new legislation it might be possible to encourage the Russian state to embrace the 21st century humanitarian, political and inclusive democratic principles which Mikhail Gorbachev worked so hard to achieve,” says the letter, penned jointly by Sir Ian and chemist Sir Harry Kroto.

The Independent first published the letter. In the letter Sir Harry says he has enjoyed “the tremendous friendship of Russian scientists” during his career and would honour an invitation to return in 2014 but says that it will be the last time he visits Russia unless the country repeals its homophobic legislation.

Sir Ian McKellen writes in the letter about how he has been recently warned by the UK Foreign Office against speaking openly about his sexuality if he travels to Russia and that as a result he has had to decline invitations to attend Russian film festivals.

Attempting to dismiss concerns about LGBT athletes attending February’s Winter Olympics, President Putin in November declared he was against “hatred” towards people of a “non-traditional sexual orientation” – whilst continuing to support the country’s homophobic legislation.

A federal bill banning gay “propaganda” was signed into law by President Putin in June.

It prescribes fines for providing information about homosexuality to people under the age of 18 – ranging from 4,000 roubles (£78) for an individual to 1m roubles (£19,620) for organisations.

The following individuals have signed the letter:-

Harold Kroto (Nobel Chemistry 1996), Ian McKellen (aka Henry V/Gandalf), Mairead Maguire (Nobel Peace 1976), Eric Cornell (Nobel Physics 2001), Sheldon Glashow (Nobel Physics 1979), Brian Josephson (Nobel Physics 1973), Martin Perl (Nobel Physics 1995), Roald Hoffmann (Chemistry 1981), Gerhard Ertl (Chemistry 2007), Susumu Tonegawa (Physiology/Medicine 1987), Tony Leggett  (Nobel Physics 2003), Dudley Herschbach (Nobel Chemistry 1986), Paul Nurse (Nobel Physiology/Medicine 2001), Robert Curl (Nobel Chemistry 1996), Martin Chalfie (Nobel Chemistry 2008), Richard Roberts (Nobel Physiology/Medicine 1993), John Polanyi (Nobel Chemistry 1986), Edmond Fischer (Nobel Physiology/Medicine 1992), Timothy Hunt (Nobel Physiology/Medicine 2001), Jack Szostak (Nobel Physiology/Medicine 2009), John Coetzee (Nobel Literature 2003), Eric Wieschaus (Nobel Physiology/Medicine 1995), Leon Lederman (Nobel Physics 1988), Peter Agre (Nobel Chemistry 2003), John Sulston (Nobel Physiology/Medicine 2002), Herta Müller (Nobel Literature 2009), Brian Schmidt (Nobel Physics 2011), Thomas Steitz (Nobel Chemistry 2009)

Here is the letter in full:-

On June 30th 2013, President Putin signed into Russian law a nationwide ban on the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors”. This inhibits the freedom of local and foreign Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people to speak openly about their sexuality and prohibits Gay Pride celebrations. Scientist Harold Kroto (HK) and actor Ian McKellen (IMcK), who have been friends since schooldays have formulated this open letter to Mr Putin and the People of Russia and garnered support for its sentiment from 27 Nobel Laureates. The letter is written to indicate that many senior members of the international scientific community show solidarity with politicians, artists, sports people and many others who have already expressed their abhorrence for the Russian Government’s actions against its gay citizens.

In my case (HK) I have had numerous invitations to Russia over the years and have much enjoyed the tremendous friendship of Russian scientists, whenever I have visited. I accepted an invitation some time ago to go to Russia in 2014 before this issue arose and although I have considered seriously cancelling my visit I have decided to go and while in Russia make my grave concerns clear at appropriate moments by pointing out that I shall not consider any further invitations unless this law is repealed or moves to repeal it are taken and in addition a serious effort is made by the Russian Government to ensure the safety of the Russian LGBT community. In my case (IMcK) I have been warned by the UK Foreign Office that in Russia I could not speak openly about my sexuality, at least in the hearing of anyone under the age of 18. I have therefore felt that I had to turn down invitations to attend Russian film festivals.

Protest is never easy but we hope that by expressing opposition to the new legislation it might be possible to encourage the Russian State to embrace the 21st Century humanitarian, political and inclusive democratic principles which Mikhail Gorbachev worked so hard to achieve. We are encouraged that our serious concerns may be considered by the pardons of imprisoned political activists which have recently been announced.