Artists decry measures that allow officials to scrutinise shows that cause 'unease' Malaysia's small but influential performing arts community is calling for widespread protests against a government drive to censor theatre scripts. The arts community is outraged by a government decision, announced on Monday, to create a committee of culture officials that will have the power to edit or delete from theatre scripts content that strays from official guidelines. The committee can also demand a preview before issuing a licence for a public performance. The measures follow a censorship battle officials waged in July with the producers of an irreverent but hugely successful comedy. A poster for the play billed it as a spoof of 'everything under the Malaysian sun and no one, no institution, no project, no cultural norm is spared'. In the eyes of city officials, that was going too far. They asked the play's producers to make changes to the script, but they refused and were ordered to pay a fine. In a protest on Tuesday, over 230 leading performers, dancers, choreographers, scriptwriters and film producers painted their faces, taped their mouths and donned blindfolds to express their anger over the new measures. In a statement, they slammed the rules as 'brute censorship' and an erosion of civil liberties. 'All forms of artistic expression are now under threat,' said Jo Kukathas, a leading theatre performer. 'The guidelines will also severely curtail the growth of a vibrant arts community. 'The measures were taken without consulting the arts community,' she said, adding that stage artists could not take part in national dialogue while under censorship. Mohamad Shaid Taufek, the mayor of Kuala Lumpur, where the theatre scene is the most vibrant, is to head the 12-member government committee comprising officials from various ministries. In announcing the measures, he said the committee was empowered to censor scripts that touch on ethnic and religious sensitivities, the royalty and 'ridicule, put to contempt, disrepute or shame' any government leaders, policies or laws. 'The new rules ensure that performances are ethical and take into consideration the interest of all parties and does not give rise to any uneasiness or feelings of unrest among individuals, agencies or organisations,' he said. 'We have to protect public sensitivity.' However, Malay theatre researcher Edin Khoo said the restrictions will cripple theatre. 'The rules destroy everything that is critical or entertaining in a performance ... it takes out the joy. They are destroying performance art.' The row over artistic freedom is the result of a larger, growing divide within Malaysian society. The arts community is highly westernised and is pushing for greater democracy. Officials are responding with an increasing conservatism that frowns on shows they view as un-Islamic. Censorship based on Islamic values is already in force in the two states ruled by the fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia. It has banned traditional theatre on the grounds that Islam forbids singing and dancing in public. 'Censorship creates conformity instead of diversity, silence instead of open discussion,' Khoo said.