AUSTRALIA—Victoria police arrested Zoe-Lee Buhler, a 28 year-old pregnant woman at her home in Ballarat, Victoria, on September 2. She was arrested for posting about an anti-lockdown event “freedom day” on Facebook. The footage of the arrest was live-streamed on Facebook and has gone viral.
The live-stream video which gained over 10 million views shows Zoe Buhler in her pajamas being arrested and handcuffed by Victoria Police with a warrant in front of her husband and her child.
After the police showed the warrant and said “It’s in relation to a Facebook post, in relation to a lockdown protest you put on just that day,” Buhler proposed to delete the post.
“My two kids are here. I have an ultrasound in an hour,” said Zoe. Officers told her that her post was “incitement” for a planned protest against Victoria’s lockdown on September 5. Authorities also took her computer and mobile phone. She cried, “This is ridiculous. This is a bit unfair.”
The assistant police commissioner, Luke Cornelius, admitted that the arrest of woman made for “terrible optics,” but he is “satisfied” since the officers’ act was reasonable. He commented that “hundreds of officers would be deployed to make arrests on the weekend,” according to The Guardian. According to BBC News, State Premier Daniel Andrews defended the arrest insisting that protests can make the pandemic worse. “Now is not the time to protest about anything. Because to do so is not safe,” said Andrews.
Her arrest was based on section 321G of the state’s Crimes Act 1958, which charges her with the offence of “pursuing a course of conduct which will involve the commission of an offence.”
Buhler’s arrest was criticized by people including human rights activists and opposition lawmakers, as BBC News introduced. Elaine Pearson of a NGO Human Rights Watch commented:
“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.”
“Many people have been issued fines when they are not breaching public health directions…The police aren’t making proper enquiries to determine why the person is not complying,” said Ariel Couchman, the chief executive of Youthlaw, an advocate for young people to The Guardian. Wendy Harris QC, the president of the Victorian Bar pointed out that “the enforcement action of the police…appeared disproportionate to the threat she presented.”
Under Victoria city law, people who violate health orders can face fines of $1,652 or imprisonment. Most Victoria residents can go outside up to an hour per day. The lockdown may be extended beyond September 13, according to authorities.