Australian woman arrested for inciting anti-lockdown protests
(CNN) — An Australian woman has been arrested and charged with incitement after promoting an anti-lockdown protest, sparking criticism.
A video of the arrest shared on Facebook has been viewed more than 7.5 million times, leading many to condemn the officers’ pre-emptive action in detaining the woman in her pajamas.
The arrest of Zoe-Lee Buhler, 28, was livestreamed on Facebook Wednesday by her partner, with the video showing Victoria Police officers entering her house with a warrant and putting Buhler in handcuffs.
“You’re under arrest in relation to incitement,” says one of the officers, explaining that Buhler is being detained due to a Facebook post about an anti-lockdown protest in Ballarat, southern Australia.
Buhler says she is pregnant, has an ultrasound in an hour and that she has not broken any laws.
The officer corrects her, saying: “You are breaking the law, that’s why I’m arresting you.”
Buhler then offers to delete the offending post, which included a link to an anti-lockdown protest with the caption: “Anyone from Ballarat please join us in our fight for freedom and human rights!”
However, police progressed with the arrest and said the warrant allowed them to seize any computers and mobile devices in the property, including the phone being used to record the encounter.
CNN has attempted to contact Buhler and her legal representatives for comment.
Buhler later spoke to reporters outside her home on Thursday and said she did not realize she had done anything wrong.
“I wanted to feel like I was standing up for human rights,” she told CNN affiliate 7News. “I had a bit of a bimbo moment.”
Buhler added that she now realized she had made a mistake, but will fight the charge, according to 7News.
Victoria state has been under a strict lockdown since August 2 after experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.
In a statement sent to CNN, Victoria Police said they were aware of a “prohibited gathering” planned for Saturday which was “in blatant breach of the Chief Health Officer’s directions and puts Victorian lives at risk.”
The statement said officers executed a search warrant and seized a mobile device at an address in Miners Rest as part of an investigation into the planning and encouragement of protest activity.
A 28-year-old woman was charged with incitement and has been bailed to appear in court in January 2021, it continued.
“Those still thinking of attending the protest in Ballarat on Saturday can expect a swift and firm response from police,” said police. “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 circumstances of Buhler’s arrest have drawn criticism.
“Arresting people pre-emptively for the act of organising 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,” Elaine Pearson, Australia director of NGO Human Rights Watch, tweeted Thursday.
“What’s more, heavy-handed police tactics could strengthen the resolve of the anti-lockdown movement and simply serve their interests by galvanising members.”
Luke Cornelius, Victoria Police assistant commissioner, defended the force’s actions. “We said we’d be coming out and we’d be holding people to account and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” he said.
On Monday, Victoria state added 41 deaths to its coronavirus death toll despite posting its lowest daily rise in new coronavirus cases since July 3, with 73 new cases detected Sunday.
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