SYDNEY • An Australian court yesterday banned a Black Lives Matter protest planned in Sydney, backing government claims that it could risk spreading the 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 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,” he said, adding that it is “not a time to throw out our caution”.
Although Australia has detected a sustained drop in the number of Covid-19 infections, social distancing rules remain in force and mass gatherings are not permitted.
Civil rights protests shaking the United States have resonated with many in Australia – a country that also wrestles with the legacy of a racist past.
Several protests have already taken place across Australia and the planned march in Sydney is one among several due to take place today.
Organisers 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.
Organisers indicated they were determined to go ahead, using a groundswell of public opinion to press for long-stalled reforms.