Australian authorities have won a legal fight to prevent a Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney which was due to take place on Saturday, following concerns around 10,000 people would attend during the coronavirus pandemic.
The New South Wales Supreme Court ruled late on Friday that the planned demonstration posed too much of a risk of spreading COVID-19 and cannot go ahead.
It was organised following the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in the US, and to protest against the deaths of indigenous Australians in custody.
But Justice Desmond Fagan said a gathering of thousands was “an unreasonable proposition” given that state rules say no more than 10 people are allowed to meet – while up to 50 people can go to funerals, places of worship, restaurants, pubs and cafes.
He said: “It is self-evident that the social distancing measures have been the key element in minimising the spread of this disease,” adding that the right to free expression was being “deferred” until a safer time.
“I don’t diminish the importance of the issues and no one would deny them in normal circumstances.
“No one denies them that, but we’re talking about a situation of a health crisis,” he added.
The last-minute move by the state’s government came after Prime Minister Scott Morrison told people not to attend the gathering and similar rallies in Melbourne and other major cities.
“The health advice is very clear, it’s not a good idea to go,” he told reporters in Canberra, where around 2,000 demonstrators handed out masks and hand sanitiser.
He added: “Let’s find a better way, and another way to express these sentiments. Let’s exercise our liberties responsibly.”
However, some protesters vowed to carry on, with the event’s organiser, Raul Bassi, saying after the court decision: “I never lose my decision to fight for what is true.”
Aboriginal elder Leetona Dungay’s son, David Dungay, died in a prison hospital in 2015 while being restrained by five guards, and just like Mr Floyd, the words “I can’t breathe”, were among his last.
Addressing the media outside the Supreme Court in Sydney, his mother also said she still planned to demonstrate in the city on Saturday.
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She said: “The correctional services officers and the doctors and nurses put my son under the ground, and I’m going to walk on it for my march…just like George Floyd.
“We’re not going to stop. We’re going to march. We don’t care what any act of law tells us what to do, because those acts of laws are killing us.”
Australia has reported daily single digit and low double digit numbers of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Overall, it has recorded 7,251, and 102 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the virus.