Australian judge worried about Djokovic’s airport interview

MELBOURNE, Jan.10 (Reuters) – The judge hearing Novak Djokovic’s legal challenge to the Australian government’s decision to revoke the star tennis player’s entry visa expressed concerns on Monday over the treatment of the Serbian after his arrest upon arrival.

Judge Anthony Kelly said it appeared Djokovic had received the required medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccination before traveling to Melbourne for the Australian Open tennis tournament and presented proof of this when ‘it landed on Wednesday night.

“The point I’m a little agitated about is what more could this man have done?” Kelly said Djokovic’s lawyers are challenging the government’s decision to revoke his visa.

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Djokovic’s fate has been watched closely around the world, creating political tensions between Belgrade and Canberra and sparking a heated debate over national immunization mandates.

The world number one risks winning a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open, the first major tournament of the year, which kicks off in Melbourne on January 17.

Djokovic, 34, is being held in a migrant detention hotel alongside long-term asylum seekers detained since Thursday. He was allowed to attend his lawyers’ offices for virtual hearings, but has not been seen in public since arriving in Australia.

The judge extended the ban on Djokovic’s expulsion from the country until 8 p.m. on Monday, as the court hearings took place later than scheduled.

His lawyers argue that a recent infection with COVID-19 allowed Djokovic to benefit from a medical exemption from the requirement for non-Australian citizens entering the country to be doubly vaccinated.

The Australian government, however, said non-nationals have no right of entry into Australia, questioned his request for exemption and stressed that even Djokovic wins the lawsuit, he reserves the right to right to detain him again and expel him from the country.

Talks between Kelly and Djokovic’s attorney Nicholas Wood revealed that officials forced the player to turn off his phone from midnight until around 7.42 a.m. local time when the decision to cancel his visa was made.

Officials also reneged on a deal to give Djokovic until 8:30 a.m. to speak to the organizer of the Tennis Australia tournament and lawyers, the judge said. Instead, Djokovic was woken up by officials around 6 am after a brief rest and forced to respond “because it was better for him to make the decision right away,” according to his lawyer.

Wood said Djokovic provided evidence to support his exemption request – having had COVID-19 in the past six months – both before boarding his flight and upon arrival.

This exemption was based on criteria defined by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI), the independent body responsible for providing advice to the Australian government.

Wood said border officials had not verified ATAGI’s guidelines, even though the visitors’ online travel declaration form lists ATAGI as the source of the exemption definitions.

Police officers watch pro-refugee protesters gather in front of the Park Hotel, where Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic is reportedly detained during his stay, in Melbourne, Australia, January 10, 2022. REUTERS / Sandra Sanders

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week the government informed Tennis Australia that a recent infection did not meet the criteria, contrary to ATAGI guidelines.

Government lawyers are due to present their case later Monday.

“LIVE LIKE AN ANIMAL”

A group of around 50 supporters gathered outside Federal Circuit and Family Court on Monday, although the hearing was held virtually due to the Omicron outbreak in Australia.

Access to the day’s hearings was hampered by technical issues that repeatedly interrupted the public live broadcast.

“He lived like an animal in a human zoo,” said Petar Nikolic, one of the supporters outside the court waving the Serbian flag and performing a Serbian folk dance. “What’s going on here isn’t Australian. It’s political and definitely racist.”

However, popular opinion in Australia, where more than 90% of the adult population is fully vaccinated, is largely against the tennis player, especially in Melbourne, which has experienced the longest cumulative lockdown in the world.

COVID-19 cases in the country topped one million on Monday, with more than half of them recorded last week, increasing the number of hospitalizations and straining supply chains.

TESTED POSITIVE

The saga began when Djokovic posted a photo of himself leaning on his luggage on Instagram last Tuesday, telling the world he was traveling to Australia to compete in the Open with a vaccination exemption.

A long-time opponent of compulsory vaccination, Djokovic had never disclosed his vaccination status, but court documents confirmed that he had not been vaccinated.

Photographs posted on social media showed him appearing at public functions in Serbia in the days following his positive test on December 16. It was not clear whether Djokovic was aware of his positive test at the time.

Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said in his first media interview since the fury started that his organization had spoken with federal and state officials for months to ensure the safe passage of players.

Czech player Renata Voracova, who was held in the same detention hotel as Djokovic and whose visa was revoked after problems with her vaccine exemption, left the country without contesting her status, the Czech Ministry of Affairs said. foreigners.

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Reporting by Sonali Paul and Ian Ransom, additional reporting by Byron Kaye, Cordelia Hsu, Loren Elliott and John Mair; Written by Jane Wardell; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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