Police in Australia arrested a 28-year-old woman on Wednesday for publishing a Facebook post that promotes an anti-lockdown protest in the country’s state of Victoria. Footage of the arrest was captured by her partner and shows police officers handcuffing the woman and saying that she’s being charged with “incitement.” The woman’s phone and computers were also seized.
The video, which was livestreamed on Facebook, has gone viral and shows the police eventually taking possession of the phone that was broadcasting the encounter. Over two million people have watched the video so far.
“It’s in relation to a Facebook post, in relation to a lockdown protest you put on just that day,” detective Adrian Smith with the Victorian Police told the woman as she was handcuffed in her home.
“I wasn’t breaking any laws by doing that,” the woman said, explaining that she had an ultrasound scheduled in an hour because she’s pregnant.
“You are actually. You are breaking the law,” Smith responded. “That’s why I’m arresting you.”
The woman and her partner, who reportedly live in the city of Ballarat, according to Australia’s ABC News, can be heard on the video offering to take the Facebook post down. But the detective insists that she needs to be arrested because she “already committed the offense.” The arrest appears to have involved at least four officers.
“I’m happy to delete the post, this is ridiculous,” the woman said, pleading with the cops and noting that her two children are watching her get arrested.
Victoria, which includes the city of Melbourne, has been under strict lockdown measures for the past month after a covid-19 outbreak caused an alarming spike in deaths. Police in Australia have arrested numerous people who’ve tried to stage protests against the lockdown, but this is the first known instance of someone in Australia being arrested for merely posting about a protest on Facebook.
“The search warrant entitles us—and we’re required to—seize any computers, any mobile devices you have,” Detective Smith says.
“I didn’t realize I was doing anything wrong. This is ridiculous,” the woman says.
The woman can be seen getting very distressed as it becomes clear that she’s really being taken into custody and the detective barks “let me finish,” as he explains what the arrest warrant allows him to take.
“Any mobile telephone you’ve got, okay?” Smith says, before the police turn their attention to the phone that’s broadcasting on Facebook.
The Victoria Police Department issued a statement to Australia’s ABC News, saying that “Any gathering of this nature is in blatant breach of the Chief Health Officer’s directions and puts Victorian lives at risk.”
“Those still thinking of attending the protest […] can expect a swift and firm response from police,” the statement continues. “We will have no hesitation in issuing $1,652 fines to anyone who is breaching the restrictions on the day, or making arrests if necessary.”
The detective in the video, identified as Adrian Smith by the badge around his neck, appears to have been with Victorian Police since 2001, according to a profile on LinkedIn.
Australia remains the only wealthy democracy in the world that doesn’t have anything equivalent to America’s First Amendment protections for free speech. And even though it’s clear lockdowns are sometimes necessary to defeat this global pandemic, it’s hard to justify arresting someone and seizing all of their electronics simply for posting about a protest on Facebook. This will likely only inspire covid-deniers to become more ridiculous and radicalized than they already are.
Far-right goons on Rupert Murdoch’s TV station Sky News Australia have been complaining for months that many actions to fight the covid-19 pandemic have been too extreme. And in this case, they might finally be right.