Australian police have arrested two men accused of planning an anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne, an unusual move to stop an event that authorities said would put “lives at risk”.
Police said Friday that the two men in their 40s had been detained after mobile phones and a computer were seized and both would be formally charged with inciting a criminal offence.
The pair were arrested following an investigation into a protest of hundreds of people planned for Melbourne city centre on Sunday, police told AFP.
The gathering would breach Melbourne’s wide-ranging lockdown — which entered into force Thursday, banning large gatherings and preventing residents from going outside except to work, exercise or buy essentials.
The state of Victoria — which includes Melbourne — recorded 450 new virus cases on Friday and has seen record deaths this week, making it Australia’s most serious outbreak.
Police in Victoria have vowed to crack down on anyone breaking lockdown restrictions, issuing 196 fines in the past 24 hours for everything from failing to wear a mask to breaching an overnight curfew or collecting a pizza.
But the decision to arrest the pair marks an escalation amid a series of legal battles over Black Lives Matter and other protests.
Since the pandemic began, Australian authorities have tried to proscribe a series of political gatherings on health grounds, with mixed legal success.
That has fuelled intense debate about whether the right to protest and freedom of speech are being unfairly curtailed, or whether public health concerns should take priority.
A Facebook page for the Sunday protest has been taken down, but it had voiced opposition to the forced closure of small business, mandatory mask wearing and “mandatory vaccines”.
Many of the Australian government’s measures to tackle the pandemic have sparked conspiracy theories and been opposed by anti-vaccination activists, self-styled “sovereign citizens” and a plethora of other anti-government movements.
The country of 25 million has so far recorded more than 20,000 virus cases and 255 deaths.
© 2020 AFP
WATCH: Larry Kudlow caught faking economic data to make Trump’s economy look stable
Trade and economic adviser to President Donald Trump Larry Kudlow stepped into the press conference Wednesday to try and invent economic numbers that made his presidency look better than it actually is.
For weeks, Kudlow has claimed a "V-shaped" recovery was happening, but with 30 million Americans still out of work and evictions still moving forward despite the holds Trump claimed he placed on it, the economy is only looking good for wealthy people.
Kudlow trotted out a chart showing the people in poverty under former President Barack Obama and how it has changed under Trump. The problem, however, is that the chart only showed what life was like before Trump's failed response to COVID-19 destroyed the country.
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It’s the 11th hour on COVID-19 help for Americans — but Republicans are leaving Washington to campaign
Americans are desperate for help to stay in their homes and pay their bills as the coronavirus pandemic has kept 30 million Americans from being able to get back to work.
Despite Congress passing a bill to help in May, the bill was never taken up by the Senate and it appears they are about to leave Washington without any progress, CNN.com reported Wednesday.
Last week, Republicans scheduled a vote on a "skinny" stimulus that wouldn't do much to help Americans desperate for unemployment funds and rent and mortgage assistance. The bill didn't pass and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tried to blame Democrats for not passing the near-useless package. Republicans in the Senate are now back at work trying to find a solution.