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Last Updated: Friday, 28 July 2006, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Sikh play protester loses appeal
The Wine Republic, attached to the Birmingham Rep
The theatre closed the play for health and safety reasons
The use of anti-social behaviour laws to break up a protest by Sikhs against a controversial play worked well, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Pritpal Singh, of Coventry, brought a legal challenge after he was arrested for failing to leave a protest against Behzti at Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

His lawyers said a "lawful protest" should not be restricted by police use of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act.

But judges dismissed the appeal, saying police actions were lawful.

Author in hiding

Lady Justice Hallett, giving the lead ruling on Friday, said Mr Singh's argument paid "scant regard" to the rights of those who wrote and staged the play and those who wanted to see it.

"They too had the right to freedom of expression, just as the adults and children who were at or near the theatre that day had the right to go about their business without being subjected to scenes which were unnecessarily frightening, intimidating and distressing."

The play depicted acts of rape and violence in a Sikh temple and its author, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, was forced into hiding after receiving death threats.

The protesters gradually, if reluctantly, left the scene and more trouble was averted
Lady Justice Hallett

The theatre - which refused to censor the work - eventually cancelled its run based on health and safety grounds.

Mr Singh's case centred on a protest on 16 December 2004 and he said his motives in taking part were "entirely peaceful".

He said the only "violence" was when one protester kicked a plastic bin and another set off a fire alarm.

At a later protest on 18 December three police officers were hurt during clashes when 400 demonstrators gathered. Mr Singh did not attend the later protest.

Lady Justice Hallett said on Friday the use of the Act in the earlier demonstration "involved no deprivation of liberty or other sanction unless the direction order was disobeyed".

She said she had watched the video recording of the event, which showed that police use of the powers to disperse had the desired effect.

"They worked well. The protesters gradually, if reluctantly, left the scene and more trouble was averted."

High Court judges in November last year backed the police over the demonstration and refused to allow a judicial review of their decision to use the Act to disperse Sikh protesters during a matinee performance.


SEE ALSO
Anti-social law 'misused' at demo
19 Jul 06 |  West Midlands
Judges back play protest policing
05 Nov 05 |  West Midlands
Play protest goes to High Court
03 Nov 05 |  West Midlands
Theatre defends actions over play
19 Dec 04 |  West Midlands
Theatre stormed in Sikh protest
19 Dec 04 |  West Midlands

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