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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 December, 2004, 07:13 GMT
Rushdie outraged at Sikh protests
Sikhs outside Birmingham REP
Sikh leaders wanted the play set in a community centre
Author Salman Rushdie has said he was horrified by the government's response to Sikh protests that forced a play in Birmingham to be cancelled.

Playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhattiat had death threats but a minister said people were entitled to protest.

Rushdie told The Sunday Telegraph the government should be doing more to support freedom of expression.

He went into hiding in the 1980s after Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa for alleged blasphemy.

It seems that the Blair government's capacity to disappoint knows no bounds
Salman Rushdie
Bhatti's play, Behzti, was closed after demonstrations against a rape scene in a Sikh temple.

Five police were injured in last week's disturbance and three people were arrested.

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.

Rusdie told the Sunday Telegraph: "It has been horrifying to see the response. It is pretty terrible to hear government ministers expressing approval of the ban and failing to condemn the violence, when they should be supporting freedom of expression"..

Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart told BBC Radio 4's Today programme last week : "I think that when people are moved by theatre to protest, in a way that is a sign of the free speech which is so much a part of the British tradition".

"I think that it is a great thing that people care enough about a performance to protest."

Rushdie said her comments sent the wrong message.

Salman Rushdie
A fatwa forced Rushdie into hiding
"It should be quite clear that, in this country, it is the liberty of any artist to express their view of their own society and their own community.

"In 1989, when The Satanic Verses was attacked, all political parties were united in their condemnation of the violence and their support for the principle of freedom of expression.

"It seems that the Blair government's capacity to disappoint knows no bounds."

Iran's ruling cleric issued a death sentence against Rushdie for his portrayal in his book of the prophet Mohammed.

The author was forced into hiding and giving special protection by Special Branch, because of the fatwa.

Ms Kaur Bhattiat is also said to be in hiding after the threats she received.

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.

Protest play may move to London
22 Dec 04 |  London

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