Police in Victoria have arrested a pregnant 28-year-old woman in front of her partner and two children for planning an anti-lockdown protest in regional Victoria this weekend.
Police arrested the woman, Zoe Buhler, at her home in Miners Rest near Ballarat on Wednesday after she created a “freedom day” event on Facebook calling for people to protest against the Victorian government’s lockdown measures.
“As some of you may have seen the government has gone to extreme measures and are using scare tactics through the media to prevent the Melbourne protest,” the now-deleted event description read.
“Here in Ballarat we can be a voice for those in stage four lockdowns. We can be seen and heard and hopefully make a difference!”
Video of the arrest shared on social media on Wednesday shows a group of officers handcuffing Buhler in front her partner and children. In the video, Buhler becomes increasingly distressed as she tells officers she is pregnant.
“I have no idea why you guys are doing this,” she tells officers in the video.
“My two kids are here. I have an ultrasound in an hour. I’m happy to delete the post.
“I don’t really understand what I’ve done wrong. This is ridiculous. I didn’t realise I was doing anything wrong.”
On Facebook, the controversial Liberal party backbench MP Craig Kelly, who has been a vocal opponent of lockdown laws, shared the video, saying it was “what you’d expect to see in Nazi Germany”.
“Every politician that voted for laws that allows a pregnant mother to be handcuffed for a Facebook post (that criticises government policy) stands condemned for eternity,” he wrote.
In a statement, Victoria police said “any gathering of this nature is in blatant breach of the chief health officer’s directions and puts Victorian lives at risk”.
“Victoria police has already taken action as part of an ongoing investigation into the planning and encouragement of protest activity in Ballarat,” police said in a statement.
“Those still thinking of attending the protest in Ballarat on Saturday can expect a swift and firm response from police.”
Buhler is the fourth person to be arrested and charged with incitement in Victoria in recent days as police in Victoria take a hardline approach to the so-called “freedom day” protests.
Earlier, Guardian Australia reported that Fanos Panayides, once a contestant on the Nine Network reality show Family Food Fight, was one of two men charged with incitement on Tuesday over the protests.
The two men were charged with incitement and bailed to appear in the Melbourne magistrates court in February. It followed the arrest of 76-year-old Windsor man Solihin Millin on Friday.
It is the second time Panayides has been arrested in relation to protests against Covid-19 restrictions.
The 38-year-old from Epping was one of the key orchestrators of a similar anti-lockdown protest held in Melbourne in May described as a demonstration against “self-isolating, social distancing, tracking apps [and] 5G being installed”. He was one of 10 people arrested at the protest, detained by police as he tried to find a verse from the Book of Revelations on his mobile phone.
“Yeah, it was pretty interesting when I was trying to say that part out of Revelations about the microchip is when they came and grabbed me,” he told his followers on Facebook after the arrest.
The day of freedom protests have been orchestrated by a loosely organised coalition of online groups broadly linked by an entangled web of conspiracy theories. It is perhaps the clearest example yet in Australia of what experts say is the melding of a bevy of fringe conspiracy groups including QAnon under the umbrella of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The organisers plan to march in cities across Australia in defiance of lockdown restrictions and mandates on mask-wearing in Victoria, and in opposition to 5G, vaccinations and “child trafficking and paedophilia”.
Predicting the turnout to the protest is difficult.
At various times events linked to the protest have reached more than 10,000 people, but Facebook has continued to delete groups and pages associated with the event citing “misinformation that could lead to imminent physical harm”.
But, perhaps predictably, the lead up to the protest has been plagued by internal division.
Panayides, who, other than writing “I’m out” after being granted bail, has been silent on social media since his arrest on Tuesday and has had to address suspicions within the conspiracy community that he is a government plant.
“I am nothing but some bloke from Epping who decided to speak up … I’m not a saviour, I’m not a messiah, but if I’m going to be seen as a leader I’m going to lead,” he said in an emotional Facebook Live video on Sunday.
Organisers have been further disrupted by Facebook’s decision to delete the largest group associated with the protest. The group, which had more than 100,000 members, was scrubbed from the social media site on Monday night.
The group has since migrated to an encrypted messaging service, where about 4,400 people had joined by midday on Wednesday. In the chaotic swirl of that community, many appear to be questioning whether the protest should go ahead after the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, announced this week that he would release a timetable for the state to exit stage four lockdown restrictions on Sunday.
Police in Victoria have taken a hardline approach to the protesters in the lead up to the event. Besides the three arrests, Victoria police said on Tuesday that officers were “continuing to actively investigate the coordination and encouragement of this activity, and are committed to putting a stop to this”.
Source: The Guardian