Anti-social behaviour laws meant to curb yob behaviour should never have been used against Sikhs protesting over a controversial play "highly offensive to their religious beliefs", the High Court was told .
The stage play Behzti, which depicted acts of rape and violence in a Sikh temple, caused "alarm to many Sikhs who viewed it as insulting and dangerous" when it was performed at the Birmingham Rep, two judges heard yesterday.
In Punjabi, the word Behzti means "dishonour".
University student Pritpal Singh is seeking a declaration that police unlawfully resorted to provisions of the 2003 Anti Social Behaviour Act to curb what was, in effect, a peaceful demonstration against the play on December 16 last year.
Later protests turned violent and thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused over the weekend of December 18-19.
The theatre was forced to cancel the play on safety grounds and playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti fled into hiding after receiving death threats.
The episode provoked a debate on freedom of speech and censorship.
But the High Court in London yesterday was concerned only with the December 16 demonstration and whether anti-social behaviour laws can be used against peaceful protesters who normally have the right to demonstrate, and freedom of expression under human rights laws.
David Pievsky, appearing for Mr Singh, from Styvechale, West Midlands, said there was already a framework of laws designed to achieve a balanced approach to the right to demonstrate, and the use of antisocial behaviour legislation "drove a cart and horse" through that framework, argued Mr Pievsky.
He told Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Mr Justice Penry-Davey that the protest on the afternoon of December 16 was peaceful, and the protesters had been allowed to go inside the theatre and hand out leaflets there.
It appeared that the theatre's management then asked police to remove protesters.
Once the protesters were removed, they were immediately ordered to disperse, and were banned from returning to the area that day.
Pritpal Singh was arrested for failing to disperse and was cautioned before being released.
The hearing continues.