Liberty Victoria is deeply concerned about reports of the arrest by Victoria Police of a woman for the alleged incitement of an anti-lockdown protest.
It has been reported that the apparently pregnant woman was arrested and handcuffed in her own home in the presence of her young children because of a Facebook post. One that she offered to take down during the police raid. To describe this approach by police as heavy handed is a gross understatement.
The prospect of pre-emptive arrest and the laying of criminal charges to prevent engagement in peaceful protest is a disturbing development – irrespective of the current state of emergency. This is a free democracy in which we live – not a police state.
Surely there are alternative means by which police could approach this issue. The power to arrest a person – to take from them their liberty even if only for a period of hours – should be exercised with the utmost care and restraint. It is difficult to see – based on what has been published to date – that any form of restraint has been exercised by Victoria Police in this matter.
As a partner of COVIDPolicing.org.au, Liberty Victoria has previously made statements concerning police overreach and over-policing of vulnerable communities, issues that have been highlighted during the current state of emergency. Reporting in the Guardian today about police issuing fines for lawful behaviour is further cause for concern.
Police should exercise discretion and restraint. As a public authority they have legal obligations under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. If police want citizens to co-operate and work together to get through this crisis, they should treat them with dignity and decency and work with people in the community, rather than alienate them.
Liberty Victoria is generally supportive of protective measures, based on health advice, implemented by the Government to decrease the risk of COVID-19 in our community. However, those measures need to be strictly necessary and proportionate with any interference of human rights. Criminal sanctions and fines to enforce public health measures should only be used as a last resort — you can’t police your way out of a pandemic.
For enquiries contact Liberty Victoria at
firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 03 9670 6422