SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police faced widespread accusations of heavy-handedness after arresting and handcuffing a pregnant woman at her home for promoting an anti-lockdown protest.
Police entered the 28-year-old’s home on Wednesday with a search warrant after she encouraged others on Facebook to attend a pandemic “freedom day” on Saturday, to protest restrictions designed to contain a second coronavirus outbreak in Victoria.
Video footage shot by her partner shows Victorian state police wearing masks handcuffing the pyjama-clad woman, while he pleaded with them to let her remove the post.
Scores of people took to social media to criticise the arrest of the expectant mother for simply promoting a peaceful protest, while some lawyers also said the police actions had been disproportionate.
“The footage of (the woman’s) arrest portrays no threat posed by her conduct which was suggestive of the need to apply handcuffs,” Wendy Harris, the president of the Victorian Bar, told The Age newspaper.
The woman did not return requests for comment when contacted by Reuters.
She earlier told reporters outside her home she had not been aware her social media posts would break the law. “Sorry about my bimbo moment, I didn’t realise I wasn’t allowed to. I’m just a passionate person. I’m sick of the lockdowns.”
Victorian police’s assistant commissioner Luke Cornelius said that while the “optics” of arresting a pregnant lady were “terrible”, the officers’ actions had been appropriate.
The woman had been charged with incitement and released on bail, following an investigation into the planning of protests in Ballarat, northwest of Melbourne, a police spokesman said in a statement.
The state capital is nearing the end of a six-week lockdown, while Ballarat has been under less severe restrictions since early August.
“Those still thinking of attending the protest in Ballarat on Saturday can expect a swift and firm response from police,” the spokesman said in an email.
Human Rights Watch’s Australia director Elaine Pearson said that regardless of the pandemic restrictions, the arrest “creates an alarming precedent”.
“Heavy-handed police tactics could strengthen the resolve of the anti-lockdown movement and simply serve their interests by galvanising members.”
Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney; editing by John Stonestreet
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