Sikhs storm theatre in attempt to halt play

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of Sikh protesters tried to storm a theatre in Birmingham last night to disrupt a play which they believe insults their faith.

More than 400 demonstrated outside the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and most tried to storm the venue to stop last night's performance of Behzti, which depicts acts of sexual abuse and murder in a Sikh temple or Gurdwara.

Five police officers were hurt in the struggle and two men arrested for public order offences. No theatre-goers were reported injured. Behzti (Dishonour), written by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti - herself a Sikh - has a scheduled run at the theatre until the end of December and explores issues of sexual abuse, manipulation and relationships in the setting of a Gurdwara.

Earlier this week, Birmingham's leaders said they were worried about the effects of the play after being contacted by the Sikh community. Khalid Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said the play had been written to cause maximum offence. But the theatre says the play is a work of fiction and makes no comment about Sikhism or its followers.

The controversy comes as the government attempts to introduce tough new laws banning the promotion of religious hatred. The legislation, which would protect all faiths, has been criticised as a restriction on free speech.

Describing last night's disturbances, a spokeswoman for West Midlands police said: "There were up to 400 people outside the theatre. A large number of these made a concerted effort to get into the theatre and this caused damage and disorder."

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