MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic was reportedly back in immigration detention on Saturday after his legal challenge to avoid being deported from Australia for not being vaccinated against COVID-19 was referred to a higher court.
A Federal Court hearing is scheduled for Sunday, a day before the No.1-ranked men’s tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion was due to begin his title defense at the inaugural Grand Slam tennis tournament. the year.
Police closed a lane behind the building where Djokovic’s lawyers are based and two vehicles exited the building mid-afternoon local time on Saturday. In television footage, Djokovic could be seen wearing a face mask in the back of a vehicle near a migrant detention hotel.
The Australian Associated Press reported that Djokovic was back in custody. He spent four nights confined to a hotel near Melbourne city center before being released last Monday when he won a legal challenge on procedural grounds against his first visa cancellation.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday blocked the 34-year-old Serb’s visa, which was initially revoked when he landed at Melbourne Airport on January 5.
Deportation from Australia can result in a three-year ban on returning to the country, although it can be lifted, depending on the circumstances.
Djokovic admitted that his travel declaration was incorrect as it did not state that he had been to multiple countries in the two weeks prior to his arrival in Australia.
But incorrect travel information is not the reason Hawke decided deporting Djokovic was in the public interest.
His lawyers filed documents in court on Saturday revealing that Hawke had said that “Djokovic is seen by some as the talisman of a community of anti-vaccination sentiments.”
Australia is one of the most vaccinated populations in the world, with 89% of people aged 16 and over fully inoculated against COVID-19.
But the minister said Djokovic’s presence in Australia could pose a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public. His presence “could be counterproductive to other vaccination efforts in Australia”, the minister said.
The Department of Health said Djokovic had a “low” risk of COVID-19 transmission and a “very low” risk of disease transmission at the Australian Open.
The minister cited comments made by Djokovic in April 2020, before a COVID-19 vaccine was available, that he was “opposed to vaccination”.
Djokovic had “previously said that he wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to get vaccinated” to participate in tournaments.
The evidence “clearly shows that he publicly expressed anti-vaccination sentiment,” the minister wrote in his reasons for revoking Djokovic’s visa.
Djokovic’s lawyers say the minister has cited no evidence that Djokovic’s presence in Australia could “foster anti-vaccination sentiment”.
Djokovic will be released from hotel detention on Sunday to visit his lawyers’ offices for the video hearing.
On Saturday, Judge David O’Callaghan suggested that a full bench rather than a single judge hear the case on Sunday. A full bench is made up of three or five judges.
A full bench would mean any verdict would be less likely to be appealed. The only avenue of appeal would be the High Court and there would be no guarantee that this court would even agree to hear such an appeal.
Djokovic’s lawyer, Paul Holdenson, opted for a full bench while Hawke’s lawyer, Stephen Lloyd, preferred a single judge.
Legal observers suspect Lloyd wants to keep the option of another Federal Court appeal because he thinks the minister can build a stronger case without rushing to deliver a verdict by Monday.
Chief Justice James Allsop will decide how many judges will hear the case.
On Saturday, the case was elevated from the Federal Circuit and Family Court to Federal Court. But the number of judges who will hear the case from 9:30 a.m. on Sunday has not yet been determined.
Djokovic has won the last three Australian Opens, part of his total of 20 Grand Slam championships. He is tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for most by a man in history.
In a social media post on Wednesday that was his most extensive public comments to date on the episode, Djokovic blamed his agent for checking the wrong box on the form, calling it “human error and certainly not deliberate”.
In that same message, Djokovic said he had given an interview and a photo op with a French newspaper in Serbia despite knowing he had tested positive for COVID-19 two days earlier. Djokovic tried to use what he says was a positive test taken on December 16 to justify a medical exemption that would allow him to circumvent the vaccine requirement on the grounds that he already had COVID-19.
In canceling Djokovic’s visa, Hawke said Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government “is strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Morrison himself hailed Djokovic’s impending expulsion. The episode struck a chord in Australia, and particularly in the state of Victoria, where residents endured hundreds of days of lockdown at the worst of the pandemic.
Australia is facing a massive increase in virus cases caused by the highly transmissible omicron variant. On Friday, the country reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in Victoria state. Although many infected people are not getting as sick as in previous outbreaks, the outbreak continues to strain the healthcare system, with more than 4,400 people hospitalized. It has also disrupted workplaces and supply chains.
“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we have stood together and saved lives and livelihoods. … Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect that the outcome of those sacrifices is protected,” Morrison said. Friday. “That is what the minister is doing by taking this action today.”
Djokovic’s supporters in Serbia have been appalled by visa cancellations.
Everyone at the Australian Open – including players, their support teams and spectators – must be vaccinated. Djokovic is not vaccinated.
His exemption was approved by the Victorian state government and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain a visa to travel. But the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa when he landed in the country.
Djokovic spent four nights in a migrant detention hotel before a judge overturned the decision. This decision allowed him to move freely around Australia and he trained daily at Melbourne Park.
“It’s not a good situation for anyone,” said three-time Grand Slam champion and five-time Australian Open runner-up Andy Murray. “It just seems like it’s been dragging on for quite a long time now.”
Under Grand Slam rules, if Djokovic is forced to withdraw from the tournament before the order of play for Day 1 is announced, No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev would fill Djokovic’s spot in the squad.
If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s schedule is published, he will be replaced on the pitch by what is known as a ‘lucky loser’ – a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but enters the main draw because of the exit of another player before the competition. has begun.
And if Djokovic plays in one match – or more – and is then told he can no longer play in the tournament, his next opponent will simply advance to the next round and there will be no substitution.
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