Australia threatens to fine, arrest Black Lives Matter protesters

Aboriginal men perform a smoking ceremony as Black Lives Matter protesters gather in Sydney on Saturday. (AP pic)

SYDNEY: Australian officials warned supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement on Thursday they could be fined or arrested if they breach coronavirus restrictions to take part in public protests.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said weekend rallies in Sydney, Melbourne and other cities that drew tens of thousands of people had already delayed plans to further ease social distancing restrictions.

“We actually don’t know right now whether those rallies on the weekend may have caused outbreaks,” Morrison told 2GB Radio.

Victoria state officials confirmed that one of eight new cases of Covid-19 reported on Thursday was a man who attended the Melbourne weekend rally. Officials said the man was unlikely to have acquired the disease there, but was potentially infectious at the time.

More unauthorised protests are planned for Friday.

“We will start writing tickets of A$1,000 and we can use all of our powers to move people on,” New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told 2GB Radio.

“If you don’t move on, well then you’ll be arrested.”

The Black Lives Matter movement has refocused attention in Australia on the mistreatment of indigenous Australians, including Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Morrison rejected growing calls to remove statues of white leaders, including one of the country’s first prime minister, Edmund Barton, which is located near an Aboriginal burial site. Barton played a key role in drafting the national constitution, which negated Aboriginal rights.

Morrison said the initial motives of protesters were “fair”, but the push for removal of the statues was now being driven by political agendas.

Australia on Tuesday recorded its first day without any community transmissions of Covid-19 since the crisis began and has reported fewer than 20 new cases daily for the past several weeks. It has recorded 7,285 cases, including 102 deaths.