Dozens of Melburnians defied stern warnings from the police and turned up at a banned anti-lockdown rally, which was then swarmed by throngs of officers, who used full force to impose harsh Covid-19 restrictions.
Dubbed a ‘freedom walk’, the rally hit the streets of central Melbourne earlier on Saturday. Police geared up for a massive turnout of protesters, sealing off the Tan Running Track and the Shrine of Remembrance – a venue of last weekend’s protests.
Some 1,500 people declared their willingness to attend online, signing up through a now-deleted Facebook group. However, only around 100 protesters actually showed up. Images of lockdown dodgers making their way downtown surfaced online just prior to the event.
Many were holding makeshift placards that called the Covid-19 epidemic a hoax and contested Australia’s quarantine measures.
The ‘walkers’ attending were predictably outweighed by a heavy police presence. Officers employed strong-armed tactics, arresting at least 14 protesters in front of television cameras.
Adding insult to injury, officers slapped fines on 51 people for “infringement” activity. Victoria Police earlier warned that anyone breaking lockdown restrictions could face a penalty of up to $1,652.
Organizers branded the action “a legal walk” that would enable Melburnians “to come together, get healthy and talk about getting our freedoms back.” That sentiment, however, didn’t play down well with Victoria Police, who repeatedly dished out stark warnings in the days leading up to the walk, reminding people that any protest would be unlawful.
Dozens of police including the mounted branch have moved into position at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance as they await a planned “freedom walk” protest at 11am. pic.twitter.com/WZF3gmAzXL
— Jack Paynter (@jackpayn) September 12, 2020
Earlier this week, Melbourne and Victoria Police were busy trying to deter the pool of potential protesters. Alleged organizers of the anti-lockdown rebellion were briefly arrested and banned from using social media.
“Police had significant prevention activity in the lead up to and duration of today’s which included visiting 90 persons of interest to urge them not to attend,” a police spokesperson told the media.
Last weekend, an anti-lockdown protest ended in massive scuffles. Riot squads forcibly pushed demonstrators back before making dozens of arrests.
All of Melbourne has remained under strict stage-four lockdown since August. The quarantine measure, meant to contain the local spread of Covid-19, includes a night-time curfew, with residents only allowed to leave their houses for work and essential health, care, or safety reasons.
READ MORE: ‘Like dog eating own vomit’: Top Victoria cop erupts in anger as he repeats warning against joining Melbourne anti-lockdown rally
People may shop or exercise within a five-kilometer radius of their home, with only one person per household allowed to leave for essential goods at a time.
Home to almost five million people, Melbourne has reported six new Covid-related deaths over the past day, bringing the city’s total death toll to 716 – a lion’s share of the 803 fatalities in Australia. The metropolis also accounts for the bulk of the country’s more than 26,500 coronavirus cases.