Zoe Lee Buhler, a 28-year-old pregnant mother, was arrested in her home in Victoria, Australia, for a Facebook post which police said broke the law. The post notified people of a “Freedom Day” rally which she was organizing in the city of Ballarat to protest extended Covid-lockdown measures, which include an 8pm-5am curfew, allow police to enter your home unwarranted, and prohibit gathering with more than one other person from outside your household in public. The arrest, which was filmed on Facebook Live and has since gone viral, sparked outrage and controversy.
Human rights activists decry the arrest. One public policy figure noted that the planned protest would have been “extremely low risk” – saying there were only four Covid cases in the entire city – and argued that the arrest had “nothing to do with saving lives.”
“This is about shutting down somebody for speaking out against the government. This is the police using the pretext of a health emergency to decide which political speech is valid and which isn’t. That is really, really frightening.”Gideon Rozner, Director of Policy at the Institute of Public Affairs
Human Rights Watch Australian Director Elaine Pearson agreed, stating, “”Arresting people pre-emptively for the act of organizing peaceful protests or for social media posts is something that happens all too often under authoritarian regimes, and it should not be happening in a democracy like Australia.”
Mom with baby arrested for posting on Facebook against lockdowns.— Chris Masterjohn (@ChrisMasterjohn) September 2, 2020
No, not China. Australia. Coming soon to a land of the free near you. https://t.co/lNlV8UoaR0
The police issued a statement defending the arrest: “Any gathering of this nature is in blatant breach of the chief health officer’s directions and puts Victorian lives at risk.” One police official stated that if they hadn’t arrested Buhler, they would have had to deploy “hundreds of officers” to make arrests at the protest.
“We remain very concerned, and in fact, outraged is probably a fair word, to say there are still people in our community who think it’s a good idea at the time of this deadly pandemic that we’re all fighting…to leave home and protest on our streets.”Luke Cornelius, Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner