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Last Updated: Friday, 24 December, 2004, 20:08 GMT
Sikh leaders criticise threats
Cancellation notice at Birmingham Rep
The play's cancellation has worried the lobby for free speech
Sikh leaders are calling on protesters to withdraw death threats against a writer thought to be in hiding after her controversial play was abandoned.

Behzti, by Gurpreet Kaur Bhattiat, was closed by Birmingham Repertory Theatre after violent demonstrations against a rape scene in a Sikh temple.

Ms Kaur Bhattiat is said to have had received threats.

The national body of Sikh organisations said in a statement it did not support any form of threat to the author.

"We unequivocally appeal to anyone who may have made these threats to withdraw them. They have no endorsement from the Sikh community," said the statement.

'Beyond reason'

"We understand the high tensions on all sides of this unfortunate incident and regret that matters went beyond the process of dialogue and reason.

"We hope that further progress on the balance between liberty to offend and right to dignity can proceed within the law and with civility."

Bosses at the Birmingham Rep decided to abandon the three-week run of the show last week on safety grounds because faith leaders said they could not ensure there would not be a repeat of the violence.

The Birmingham Stage Company later offered to put on Behzti but was also forced to abandon the plan following a request by Ms Kaur Bhattiat.

Actor-manager Neal Foster said the request was made because of the "increased threats" to her safety.

He said he had also received several threatening phone calls.

Free speech

The row has led many to criticise the demonstrations as a curb on free speech.

On Thursday more than 400 figures from the arts world signed a letter supporting the playwright.

Poet laureate Andrew Motion, director Richard Eyre and writer Willy Russell were among those to have written to the Guardian backing Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti.

Although plans were in progress to stage it elsewhere, the playwright has requested that it not be revived following the personal threats.

The signed letter to the Guardian says "those who use violent means to silence it must be vigorously opposed and challenged".

Protest play may move to London
22 Dec 04 |  London

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