The Daily Star’s FREE newsletter is spectacular! Sign up today for the best stories straight to your inbox As a server or bartender, tips are…
Lawyers and civil liberty groups have expressed concerns about the way a pregnant woman was arrested at her home in Ballarat for allegedly encouraging people to take part in an anti-lockdown rally.
Detectives visited Zoe Buhler's home with a search warrant on Wednesday and charged her with incitement. Footage of her arrest, with police putting her in handcuffs as she offered to delete her social media posts, has sparked a civil liberties debate.
The Victorian Bar has written to Police Minister Lisa Neville to raise concerns about Ms Buhler"s treatment.
President of the Victorian Bar Wendy Harris, QC, said she understood the importance of individuals adhering to the law – particularly during a pandemic – but said she was concrned that Ms Buhler's arrest "appeared disproportionate to the threat she presented".
"The law in Victoria … is that a police officer is not entitled to use handcuffs on a person merely because an arrest has been made. The footage of Ms Buhler’s arrest portrays no threat posed by her conduct which was suggestive of the need to apply handcuffs," said
Police Accountability Project principal solicitor Gregor Husper said he believed Ms Buhler could have grounds to lodge a complaint.
“I think she could quite reasonably be aggrieved she was handcuffed in circumstances where she didn't really pose a risk to police," he said.
“They’re entitled to use handcuffs if the situation requires it, it’s hard to see how that situation warranted the use of handcuffs. It seems excessive and out of proportion."
He said he believed the arrest is part of an "overzealous police response" to the pandemic.
“I think we need to recognise the need to limit certain individual rights in relation to the pandemic, but the state of emergency doesn’t mean individual rights disappear altogether."
Liberty Victoria also expressed "deep concern", saying pressing charges to prevent a peaceful protest was a "disturbing development, irrespective of the current state of emergency".
"To describe this approach by police as heavy-handed is a gross understatement," said Liberty Victoria senior vice-president Sam Norton.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said police were doing what they were required to do to stop protests and he was satisfied the treatment of Ms Buhler was appropriate in the circumstances.
"It's never going to look good, the optics of arresting someone who's pregnant is terrible," he said, adding that the use of handcuffs was guided by a risk assessment process which had been correctly followed.
"This wasn't some casual encounter. This was our members attending a premises to execute a search warrant.
"I've seen the footage and in my assessment, the members have conducted themselves entirely reasonably, they've been polite and professional."
Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt said he had watched the video of Ms Buhler's arrest from start to finish and couldn't point to "a single thing any one of my members have done incorrectly".
"They've announced themselves, they explained themselves, they have de-escalated any form of conflict and they've done that quite well. They have cautioned and given the person their rights and indeed they have used handcuffs in a manner we would expect ordinarily to occur for their safety and the safety of the person who is under arrest."
Ms Neville said she fully backed the response of police to breaches of coronavirus restrictions.
Ms Buhler, who said she plans to fight the charges, said she had organised the protest as she believes Victoria's lockdowns are too harsh and should be eased.
"I thought in Ballarat we are in stage three lockdown and I suppose I had a bit of a bimbo moment and I actually didn’t realise it wasn’t OK," Ms Buhler told radio station 3AW on Thursday.
"I’m not a criminal person and [my arrest] was very extreme," she said. "I didn't realise I was doing something wrong."
Mr Cornelius said you would "have to have been on Mars" not to know that protesting is currently not allowed.
Opposition police spokesman David Southwick said the treatment of Ms Buhler had "deeply concerned" Victorians and contrasted it with the handling of the Black Lives Matter and construction union protests.
"Daniel Andrews must now answer why it is one set of rules for left-wing and union protesters and another set for anyone critical of his government."
Mr Andrews said he had not seen the video of the arrest and how it was handled was a matter for Victoria Police.
"Protests are not smart, they're not safe, and they're not lawful. And that's been my consistent view, regardless of what you're protesting about. And I'm not making a comment about the worth or otherwise or whatever someone is protesting about."
Mr Cornelius said police have been visiting people of interest and have sent official warnings to more than 80 people who are "at risk" of attending the "Freedom Day" protest planned for Melbourne's CBD Saturday.
The decision to promote the Shrine of Remembrance as a location for the proposed protest was "completely inappropriate", he said.
"We share the frustration that is shared by the whole community, but the key piece here is that leaving home to protest under the current conditions, is absolutely not on.
"If however you do take the selfish option, and leave home for protest, we'll be ready for you. We'll be ready for you not only in the city, but we'll be ready for you when you leave home and hop on public transport or use other means to come into the city."
Sign up to our Coronavirus Update newsletter
Get our Coronavirus Update newsletter for the day’s crucial developments at a glance, the numbers you need to know and what our readers are saying. Sign up to The Sydney Morning Herald’s newsletter here and The Age’s here.
Most Viewed in National
Source: Read Full Article