Novak Djokovic returns to prison as he continues to fight deportation

MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic returned to immigration detention on Saturday after his legal challenge to avoid deportation from Australia for not being vaccinated against COVID-19 was referred to higher court.

A Federal Court Hearing was scheduled for Sunday, the day before the men’s number one and nine-time Australian Open champion begins defending his title at the year’s first Grand Slam tennis tournament.

Djokovic and his lawyers had a morning meeting with immigration officials and by mid-afternoon Australian media reported the tennis star had been taken back to detention. Television footage showed the 34-year-old Serb wearing a mask as he sat in a vehicle near an immigration detention hotel.
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He spent four nights in custody in a hotel near Melbourne’s city center before being released last Monday. he won a challenge before the court on procedural grounds against the cancellation of his first visa.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday blocked the visa, which was initially revoked when he landed at Melbourne airport on 5 January.

Deportation from Australia could result in a three-year ban from returning to the country, although that may be waived, depending on the circumstances.

Djokovic has admitted that his travel statement was incorrect as it did not show that he had visited multiple countries in the two-week period prior to his arrival in Australia.

But that’s not why Hawke decided that Djokovic’s expulsion was in the public interest.

Djokovic’s lawyers have filed documents with the court revealing Hawke has claimed that the tennis star is “regarded by some as the talisman of the anti-vaccination community”.

Australia has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 vaccination in the world.

But the minister said Djokovic’s presence in Australia could be a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public and “could be counterproductive to the vaccination efforts of others in Australia”. Australia.”

The Department of Health advises that Djokovic has a “low” and “very low” risk of transmission of COVID-19 at the Australian Open. ”

The minister cited comments Djokovic made in April 2020 that he was “opposed to vaccination” and did not want to be forced by someone to take the vaccine in order to compete.

Djokovic’s lawyers argued that the minister cited no evidence that Djokovic’s presence in Australia could “promote anti-vaccination sentiment”.

Hundreds of activists staged a peaceful protest outside the Melbourne Park complex, where the Australian Open is being held, and planned another rally for Monday.

“We are at Rod Laver Arena supporting Novak. He won nine titles (Australian Open) here. Hopefully this will be number 10 – if he can get out of quarantine and get his visa back,” said Harrison McLean, one of the protest organizers. “We are a peaceful movement, here to raise awareness and support people’s right to freedom of choice.”

On Saturday, Federal Judge James Allsop announced that he would hear the case with Judges David O’Callaghan and Anthony Besanko.

The decision to have three judges hear the appeal instead of a single judge enhances the importance of the case from the judiciary’s point of view and means that any ruling is less likely to be appealed. than.

Sydney-based immigration lawyer Simon Jeans said he was surprised Djokovic was no longer deported because his COVID-19 infection last month did not exempt him from Australia’s strict regulations that Foreign travelers must be vaccinated unless there is a valid medical reason that they cannot. it is in.

“The unanswered question is if Djokovic is a threat to good order, why grant him a visa” in November, “Jeans asked. “This is a high-risk strategy. It will be much harder for the minister to convince the three judges that what he is doing is in the public interest.”

Djokovic, who has won the last three Australian Open titles, will be allowed out of his hotel on Sunday to go to his lawyer’s office for the video hearing.

He is seeking a record 21st Grand Slam singles title. He is currently tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer the most by a man in history.

In a social media post on Wednesday that made up his most widespread comments about the episode, Djokovic blamed his agent for ticking the wrong box on his passport. He called it “human error and certainly not intentional”.

In that same post, Djokovic said he continued to interview and take photos with a French newspaper in Serbia despite knowing he had tested positive for COVID-19. Djokovic tried to use what he said was a positive test taken on December 16 to justify a medical exemption that would allow him to avoid requiring the vaccine on the grounds that he already had COVID. -19.

In canceling Djokovic’s visa, Hawke said Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government was “resolutely committed to protecting Australia’s borders, especially in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The episode has been deeply emotional in Australia, and especially in Victoria, where locals have endured more than 260 days of lockdown during the worst of the pandemic.

Australia faces a large increase in virus cases due to the highly contagious omicron variant. On Friday, the nation reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in Victoria. Although many infected people did not get sick as in previous outbreaks, the outbreak still put severe strain on the health system and disrupted supply chains.

Djokovic’s supporters in Serbia were disappointed by the visa cancellation. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused the Australian government of “harassment” and “mistreatment” of Djokovic and asked if Morrison’s government was trying to score political points ahead of the upcoming election.

“Why don’t you pay him back immediately, or tell him it’s impossible to get a visa?” Vucic asked Australian authorities in an address on social media. “Why are you harassing him and why are you mistreating not only him, but his family and a proud and free nation as a whole?”

Everyone at the Australian Open is required to be vaccinated.

Under Grand Slam rules, if Djokovic is forced to withdraw from the tournament before the order to play for Day 1 is announced, fifth seed Andrey Rublev will replace Djokovic in the final.

If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s schedule is announced, he will be replaced by a so-called “lucky loser” – a player who lost the qualifying tournament but was entered the main draw because another player dropped out before the game had started.


AP Sports writer John Pye contributed to this report. Novak Djokovic returns to prison as he continues to fight deportation


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