Australian police arrested a pregnant woman and confiscated a cellphone after she encouraged others to attend an anti-lockdown protest this weekend.
Zoe Buhler, 28, live-streamed her arrest on Wednesday in a video that has been viewed nearly nine million times. The arresting officers said that Buhler was being arrested for “incitement” after she created an event on Facebook for an anti-lockdown protest on Saturday. The officers arrest Buhler in front of her children and partner and despite her protests that she had an ultrasound appointment scheduled for an hour later.
“You’re under arrest in relation to incitement,” the officer says. “It’s in relation to a Facebook post, in relation to a lockdown protest you put on for Saturday.”
After Buhler asserted she was not breaking any laws, the officer responded, “You are, actually. You are breaking the law. That’s why I’m arresting you.”
“In front of my two children?” Buhler says. “I’m happy to delete the post. This is ridiculous!”
Buhler and her partner continue to protest the arrest. The officer reminds Buhler of her rights and tells her that anything she says may be used as “evidence” against her.
“She already committed the offense,” the officer says to her repeated offers to delete the post. “Now, the search warrant … we are required to seize any computers, any mobile devices you have.”
“What on Earth?” Buhler exclaims.
“This is just very unfair,” her partner says.
The officers then apparently attempt to collect all the devices in the home. Before the video cuts off Buhler’s partner is protesting the officers’ attempts to take his phone.
Posted by Zoe Lee on Tuesday, September 1, 2020
After the video of Buhler’s arrest went viral on social media, the Victorian Police Department released a statement defending the conduct of the officers.
“Police executed a search warrant at a Miners Rest address this afternoon and a mobile device was seized,” Victoria Police told Yahoo News Australia. “As a result, a 28-year old female has been charged with the offence of incitement and has been bailed to appear at the Ballarat Magistrates Court on 25 January, 2021.”
“Victoria Police is aware of a prohibited gathering which is planned for Ballarat on Saturday,” police said. “Any gathering of this nature is in blatant breach of the Chief Health Officer’s directions and puts Victorian lives at risk.”
Under Australian law, incitement is pushing others to commit a crime before that crime takes place, according to Maria O’Sullivan, the deputy director at the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University in Melbourne. Numerous other people have been arrested in Australia under similar circumstances to Buhler and charged with inciting others to protest.
According to O’Sullivan, the charge is legally dicey because incitement is typically used in relation to crimes such as murder or assault. Protesting is not a crime under Australian law, but it may be a violation of health codes put in place under the pandemic.
Rita Panahi, an opinion columnist in Australia, accused the Victoria police of holding a double-standard for people protesting heavy-handed lockdown orders and thousands of other protesters who have marched recently in Black Lives Matter protests.
“Victoria police declined to fine activists taking part in BLM march & pushed for private security guards to oversee hotel quarantine program…when it mattered most they were MIA,” Panahi posted on Twitter.
Victoria police declined to fine activists taking part in BLM march & pushed for private security guards to oversee hotel quarantine program…when it mattered most they were MIA. https://t.co/A3RF3qtoh7
— Rita Panahi (@RitaPanahi) September 2, 2020