The High Court has backed the use of anti-social behaviour laws to disperse Sikhs protesting over the controversial play Behzti.
A senior judge yesterday said police chiefs had faced "a difficult task" and were entitled to use provisions of the 2003 Anti Social Behaviour Act to end demonstrations at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on December 16 last year.
Days later further protests turned violent, thousands of pounds worth of damage was done and the theatre was forced to cancel the play on safety grounds.
Playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti fled into hiding after receiving death threats over the play, which depicts acts of rape and violence in a Sikh temple.
The episode provoked a debate on freedom of speech and censorship.
On December 16, police took action after reports that theatre staff were becoming "alarmed and distressed" by the protests.
The judges were told that the type of audience watching the play were "elderly Asian women", while the demonstrators were "Asian males".
They dismissed Sikh protester Pritpal Singh's application for judicial review of the police decision to use anti-social behaviour laws.
He was arrested and cautioned after failing to obey the dispersal order.
Lord Justice Maurice Kay, sitting with Mr Justice Penry-Davey, rejected arguments that the 2003 Act could only be used against "yob" behaviour and not against genuine protests in which the right to freedom of expression was being exercised.
Lord Justice Maurice Kay said the police had received reports "of threats to theatre staff - including threats to kill".
What occurred that day was not as innocuous as Mr Singh, a university student from Styvechale, West Midlands, may have wished.
Clarifying the law, Lord Justice Maurice Kay said it was "convincingly clear" that Parliament had intended public protests to be covered by the 2003 Act.
The right to demonstrate was safeguarded by the fact that the law had to be applied in a balanced and proportionate way, said the judge.
He added: "I am satisfied that the totality of the material in the possession of the police totally justified the issuing of dispersal directions."
David Pievsky, appearing for Mr Singh, had argued less draconian action could have been taken, and the demonstration could have been allowed to continue near the theatre.
He said the evidence was that the dispersal order had only been issued because Sikh demonstrators handing out leaflets had begun to cause alarm during a matinee performance.
But the judge said that threats were made to theatre staff, including the threat to kill, and a protester kicked a poster box inside the theatre and a fire alarm was set off.
Protesters refused to move away from the theatre voluntarily and some stated that their object was to stop the performance and they would do "whatever it took" to force their way into the theatre.
In all the circumstances, the police action was "proportionate" and not irrational.
The Sikh Community Forum, which backed today's application for judicial review, said later in a statement: "We are very disappointed with the outcome at the Royal Courts of Justice.
"We feel that on 16 December 2004 protesters were denied the legitimate right to protest.
"By dispersing the protesters this right was curtailed.
"Our concern is that any legitimate protest can be prevented using antic social behaviour powers because people may be alarmed at what is said or by the actions of an individual protester, when the police already have powers to impose measures to reduce the impact of any protest on the public.
"An appeal is being considered."