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Last Updated: Monday, 20 December, 2004, 08:36 GMT
Police meeting over play protest
Police at Birmingham REP
Three police officers were hurt in struggles at the theatre
The Sikh community is to meet with police on Monday to discuss violent protests about a play that left officers injured.

Earlier a meeting between West Midlands Police and Birmingham Repertory theatre broke up without agreement over the future of performances of the play.

Three officers were hurt during clashes at the theatre on Saturday after 400 people gathered outside to demonstrate.

The Rep has defended the play - Behzti - and maintains the show will go on.

These protests....have been fuelled by the Government's ill-judged proposals to ban the incitement of religious hatred
Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris

Management say Behzti (Dishonour), depicting sex abuse and murder in a temple, does not seek to portray the Sikh faith in a negative fashion.

But religious leaders have urged people to boycott the theatre.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Birmingham issued the appeal on Sunday after being involved in recent multi-faith talks with the theatre to try to stop the play going ahead.

The performance on Saturday was cancelled and three people were arrested in connection with the demonstration.

The theatre said some protesters entered back stage and smashed equipment, windows were broken and a foyer door was destroyed.

Religious censorship is always wrong
David Patrick, Reading, UK

It added that short of "blatant censorship" and cancelling the production, it could not have done more to appease the Sikh community.

Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris claims the protests against Behzti - which translates as "dishonour" - were "exacerbated" by proposals for laws to ban incitement to religious hatred.

Dr Harris, an honorary associate of the National Secular Society, said: "While any offence caused by a play or a novel is regrettable, it is vital for free speech and the future of our creative arts that this production is not closed on the basis of protests or intense lobbying.

"These protests and the calls for the end of the nativity display at Madame Tussauds have been fuelled by the government's ill-judged proposals to ban the incitement of religious hatred.

"It has created a climate whereby any religion's assertion is that their beliefs, leaders, icons and places of worship are protected from criticism, ridicule or parody."

'Change play'

Sewa Singh Mandla, chairman of Sikh Gurdwaras, said he did not condone what had happened at the theatre but protesters had been provoked.

"The problem is that the entire play is in a Gurdwara and a Gurdwara is a sacred place of worship for Sikhs.

"The play depicts sexual abuse, homosexual activities, rape and murder. In real life these things do not happen in Gurdwaras."

He added: "We have suggested that the time has now come to put a stop (to the play). They (theatre) know what the public opinion is and must pay heed to what is being said."

But Stuart Rogers, executive director of the Birmingham Rep, said the only way the play would not go ahead on Monday night would be if there was likely to be a repeat of Saturday's violent demonstrations.

"This play has been written by a young Sikh and it doesn't offend her, it doesn't offend the young actors who are in it or the young Sikhs who come to see it.

"What they (protestors) want is to change the play and have it written on their terms but that is not the world we live in."

Birmingham's Roman Catholic Archbishop has described the play as offensive to all faiths.

Theatre defends actions over play
19 Dec 04 |  West Midlands
Theatre stormed in Sikh protest
19 Dec 04 |  West Midlands

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