July 26, 2020 / 7:47 AM / 16 days ago

Australia police win halt to Black Lives Matter protest amid COVID-19

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - An Australian court on Sunday ordered a halt to a Black Lives Matter protest for this week, accepting police concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, but the organiser vowed to appeal.

Several thousand people had been expected at the protest in Sydney on Tuesday against the deaths of Aboriginal people in custody, building on momentum from the global Black Lives Matter demonstrations for racial justice and against police brutality.

The New South Wales state supreme court granted a police application to halt the rally. Police cited concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus to protesters, the public and police officers.

Justice Mark Ierace noted public health authorities raised their risk assessment for the transmission of the new coronavirus to “medium” from “low” in early July, after thousands had attended protests across Australia’s main cities in June without any evidence of transmission.

Australian health authorities have been fighting more than 100 outbreaks in the neighbouring state of Victoria, which saw a record 10 deaths overnight, raising fears that small clusters in New South Wales could quickly escalate.

Outside the court, organiser Paddy Gibson said he would appeal the decision and the protest would go ahead.

“We do not suspend the basic fight for justice that Aboriginal people have got going in this country just because there’s a pandemic,” he told national broadcaster the ABC.

But New South Wales police “strongly urged” people to reconsider plans to attend the “unauthorised” protest, referring to public health restrictions on large gatherings.

“Police will not hesitate to take the appropriate action, if required,” the police said in a statement.

Protesters are demanding justice for David Dungay Jr, 26, an indigenous man who died after being restrained by police at a Sydney jail in 2015, where footage showed him repeatedly telling officers he could not breathe.

A coronial inquest in Nov 2019 found that none of the five guards who restrained Dungay should face disciplinary actions.

Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by William Mallard

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