27 Nobel laureates join Sir Ian McKellen to protest over Russia's gay ‘propaganda’ ban

In an open letter to President Vladimir Putin and the Russian people given exclusively to The Independent, they speak out against homophobic legislation which activists say has led to violence and even suicides among gay people

Some 27 Nobel laureates from the fields of science and the arts are demanding that Russian President Vladimir Putin repeal repressive homophobic legislation which has placed his country at the centre of mounting international fury over gay rights.

In an open letter to the President and the Russian people given exclusively to The Independent, leading figures including the novelist JM Coetzee, geneticist Sir Paul Nurse and chemist Sir Harry Kroto speak out against the ban on “homosexual propaganda” which activists say has led to violence and even suicides among gay people.

The demand was formulated by Sir Harry and his friend Sir Ian McKellen, an influential spokesman for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights. The pair have known each other since their school days. “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,” the letter states.

“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,” it adds.

The move comes just days ahead of the Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. Mr Putin has faced global hostility over the legislation which outlaws the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” among minors prompting fears that gay foreign athletes could be targeted whilst competing.

The law has been interpreted as banning parents or teachers from ascribing equal rights to same sex couples and is alleged to have given the green light for vigilante groups to terrorise the LGBT community in Russia. The signatories acknowledge Mr Putin’s recent decision to grant an amnesty to jailed political dissidents including members of the punk band Pussy Riot and the release of Greenpeace demonstrators who were campaigning against Russia’s exploitation of oil and gas in the Arctic.

Critics have claimed the gesture was an attempt to head off international criticism ahead of the opening ceremony next month.

Sir Harry said he had enjoyed the “the tremendous friendship of Russian scientists” during his illustrious career. He said he would honour an invitation to go to the country in 2014 – which he accepted before the issue arose – but this would be his last unless the law was repealed. He said he intended to make his concerns clear during his time there.

Sir Ian, who signed the letter “AKA Henry V/Gandalf”, said he had been advised by the UK Foreign Office that he could not speak openly about his sexuality while in Russia, so had turned down the opportunity to appear at Russian film festivals.

Also among those to sign the letter was Mairead Maguire, winner of the 1976 Nobel Peace prize.

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.

Sincerely,

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).

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor