An Australian court yesterday banned a “Black Lives Matter” protest planned in Sydney, backing government claims that it could risk spreading the novel coronavirus.
Up to 10,000 people were expected to march in Sydney today to express solidarity with US protesters and demand an end to frequent Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia.
On the eve of the protest, the police — backed by prominent local conservative politicians — launched legal action to ban the rally on health grounds.
Justice Desmond Fagan agreed, ruling that the march should be prohibited because health concerns outweighed any deferment of the right to protest.
“Everybody has given up a lot in order to defeat this disease,” Fagan said. “It’s not a time to throw out our caution.”
Australia has reported a sustained decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases, but social distancing rules remain in force and mass gatherings are not permitted.
Civil rights protests shaking the US have resonated with many in Australia — a country that also wrestles with the legacy of racism.
Several protests have taken place across Australia and the planned march in Sydney is one among several scheduled for today.
Organizers hoped to highlight the high levels of imprisonment for First Nations Australians and the large number of indigenous deaths in custody — more than 400 in the past three decades.
The legal action was a U-turn for the police — who initially appeared to have granted the Sydney event the green light — and follows heavy criticism of the protest in the country’s strongly conservative media.
Organizers indicated that they were determined to go ahead, using a groundswell of public opinion to press for long-stalled reforms.
“Tomorrow, we are going to march if they like it or not, because this is our land and nothing is going to stop any of us,” said Latona Dungay, whose son David died in prison in 2015.
Protesters in Melbourne were similarly warned that they could face fines for attending a rally in the city, with authorities urging people to stay home.
Earlier yesterday, hundreds of protesters gathered in the nation’s capital, Canberra, even as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged people to stay home.
“Let’s find a better way and another way to express these sentiments rather than putting your own health at risk,” Morrison said.
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