Supreme Court prohibits ‘Russian roulette’ refugee rights protest amid virus

A refugee rights protest planned to be held in Sydney this weekend has been blocked by the Supreme Court after organisers were accused of playing “Russian roulette” amid the COVID-19 epidemic.

Justice Michael Walton on Thursday night granted a NSW Police application for the protest to be declared a prohibited public gathering after RAC organiser James Supple told the court they were expecting a modest crowd of about 150 to 200.

The rally, which was being organised by the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), was scheduled to take place at Sydney’s Town Hall on Saturday afternoon.

RAC organiser James Supple told the court they were expecting a modest crowd of about 150 to 200 and that it could be held while observing social distancing rules.

The court was also told that the RAC would look to email a list of protesters attending the rally to authorities as well as asking demonstrators to wear masks in the hope the event could go ahead.

But Justice Walton accepted arguments put forward by Lachlan Gyles SC, acting for NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, who cited health concerns.

The judge acknowleged that while COVID-19 risk in NSW has decreased in recent weeks, any move to reduce current restriction levels and allow mass gatherings of individuals needs to be “moderate and gradual” for fear of another virus outbreak.

A Refugee Action Coalition-organised refugees’ rights protest scheduled to take place in Sydney has been prohibited by the NSW Supreme Court. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett) NO ARCHIVING (AAP)

“Those public health risks – even in mitigated form – outweigh rights to public assembly and freedom of speech in public context,” Justice Walton said.

Meanwhile, NSW Police are urging people not to attend an unauthorised rally connected to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

The action is scheduled for Sydney Town Hall on Friday evening with more than 1000 people hoping to attend, according to the event’s Facebook page.

But Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing says the event is unauthorised because police have not been formally notified.

“We all appreciate the sensitivities around (the BLM cause) and global events have left an impression on all of us, but I ask people not to attend tomorrow night’s rally,” Mr Willing told reporters on Thursday.

Thousands rallied in Sydney in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Rick Rycroft)
Thousands rallied in Sydney in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Rick Rycroft) (AP)

Mr Willing said the police force would deploy “significant resources” to enforce the existing COVID-19 health order, which bans mass gatherings.

People could be moved on and potentially arrested if they choose to attend Friday’s event, the assistant commissioner said.

“We have shown a tempered and measured approach when it comes to the issuing of infringements in relation to the health orders to date. That won’t change.”

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said people attending Friday’s rally could be issued $1000 fines.

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