Players competing in the World Ice Hockey Championships in Belarus are being urged to make a stand against the "last dictator of Europe" by a group of writers, artists and directors.
The open letter calls on them to wear a red and white scarf after matches at the tournament, which begins today, in opposition to the "regime" of long-time Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
"Belarusians have lived for 20 years under Lukashenko's regime, and have faced torture, kidnapping and murder, intimidation and harassment for speaking out against his inhumane laws and regulations," the letter says.
Belarus was awarded the World Ice Hockey Championships in August 2009, making it the first major international sporting event to be held in the country.
In September, Lukashenko issued a decree telling the local Organising Committee of the Championships to insure itself "against the possibility of cancellation, boycott or postponement".
That was in response to the European Parliament calling on the International Ice Hockey Federation to consider moving the event in protest against Belarus' poor human rights record.
The open letter is penned by a group of 20 which includes actors Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Jude Law and Hugh Grant, playwright Tom Stoppard and producer James Bierman.
It reads: "Lukashenko has created a publicity campaign with the slogan: 'Big ice hockey supports Alexander Lukashenko'.
"We do not believe that.
"We believe ice hockey players support freedom and human rights.
"Please do not let yourselves be used by a despot.
"Join us by showing you do not support the Last Dictator of Europe and that you stand with the people of Belarus by wearing a red and white scarf after the match.
"These are colours of our national flag that is recognised in Belarus as symbol of resistance."
The letter goes on to say Belarus has been "frozen in time" and while sport should be kept out of politics, when it is not, "athletes must demonstrate that they know what is going on, that they care, and they stand behind their fans in their quest for human rights and freedom".
Lukashenko was elected President of Belarus in July 1994.
He was re-elected in September 2001 - a referendum in 1996 extended his first term by two years.
He won a third and fourth term in 2006 and 2010 respectively, with the next election due for the end of this year.
The World Ice Hockey Championships is due to take place until May 25, with all Games played in the capital Minsk.
Sixteen teams, including defending champions Sweden and runners-up in 2013 Switzerland, Untied States, Canada, Russia and France, will compete for the title.
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