Australia

In dramatic last minute decision, NSW Court of Appeal green-lights Sydney Black Lives Matter protest

The NSW Court of Appeal has given the Sydney Black Lives Matter protest approval to go ahead, just minutes before it was due to start. 

Protest organisers had launched an urgent appeal at around 2pm on Saturday in the NSW Court of Appeal after the Supreme Court on Friday denied permission for the rally to go ahead. 

The decision means protesters – many hundreds of whom were already gathered for the start of the rally at 3pm – cannot be arrested for blocking roads along the planned route from Town Hall to Belmore Park.

Demonstrators cheered when the decision was handed down.

Many protesters had publicly pledged to attend regardless, with the rally’s original organisers also promising to hand out face masks and hand sanitiser nearby “unrelated to any gathering”.

Town Hall railway station was briefly closed at around 3pm and a large police presence in the city is monitoring the rally.

One man holding an “All Lives Matter” banner was removed from the area by police.

Earlier, police had warned they could fine or arrest protesters for blocking roads or public transport services and for breaching COVID-19 public health orders.

Protesters gathered in Sydney’s CBD

Nick Baker/SBS News

“Police hold serious concerns about thousands of people gathering together in close proximity in the current health environment, as our priority is always community safety,” NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said in a statement late on Friday.

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“Police will have a strong presence (Saturday) to ensure the law is obeyed.

“If people choose to disobey the Supreme Court ruling and attend the planned protest regardless, they need to be aware they are doing so unlawfully and police will respond accordingly.”

Leetona Dungay, whose son David died in Long Bay jail after shouting “I can’t breathe” while being restrained, said she’d march regardless of court approval.

“I’m marching for my son and nothing is stopping me,” she said before the court’s decision.

“If we don’t march tomorrow that means they’ll keep killing people.”

Protest organiser Raul Bassi told the Supreme Court the protest would go ahead regardless and it was safer for the court to grant permission so proper social distancing protocols could be put in place. 

Police initiated the court action on Friday afternoon to stop the protest, but it became apparent during the four-hour Supreme Court hearing that the rally had never been deemed an authorised public assembly.

Justice Desmond Fagan then refused to approve it, citing the current coronavirus restrictions on mass gatherings.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. 

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The federal government’s coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone’s app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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