Sydney, Jul 28 (AP):
Police arrested a leader of an anti-racism protest and shut down the demonstration before it started Tuesday after courts ruled the gathering in downtown Sydney was illegal due to the pandemic threat.
Organiser Paddy Gibson was among a number of people arrested in a park known as The Domain before the rally was due to start at noon. Two police officers were photographed leading a defiant Gibson away.
Police outnumbered demonstrators. Officers told demonstrators to move on as they arrived and the area was cleared 15 minutes before the scheduled start.
Demonstrators reported that some were fined 1,000 Australian dollars (USD 710). The rally attracted far fewer than the 5,000 who had registered online to attend.
New South Wales state police media unit confirmed arrests had been made and said a further statement would be given later.
Gibson told Nine Network television hours earlier: We all must be COVID-safe but we need to stand together to … say that Black lives matter in Australia. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 20 people in New South Wales due to the pandemic threat.
Gibson had organised the demonstration with the family of David Dungay, an Indigenous man who died in 2015 while being restrained in a Sydney prison after repeatedly saying: I can’t breathe. The demonstrators have gathered more than 100,000 signatures on a petition calling for his prison guards to be charged.
A New South Wales Supreme Court judge on Sunday accepted a police submission that the possibility of community transmission of COVID-19 made the demonstration too risky to proceed.
An appeals court on Monday dismissed the protesters’ challenge which contended the judge did not have the authority to prohibit the rally.
The court rulings increase the legal powers available to police to use against protesters.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned that Sydney was at a critical point of the pandemic in which authorities were battling to contain several infection clusters through contact-tracing and testing.
We’re appealing to people’s consciences to say now the law says you shouldn’t be out there, the pandemic and I think the ethical standards say you shouldn’t be out there, please think of a different way to express your views, Berejiklian said before the rally was due to begin.