Sunday, January 16, 2022

Djokovic will be arrested ahead of Sunday’s hearing as lawyers denounce the ‘irrational’ visa annulment

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His visa was canceled for the second time on Friday for “health and order reasons”.

Novak Djokovic will be arrested ahead of an 11th hour hearing in Australia from Saturday morning after the government canceled his visa for the second time.

The tennis star’s lawyers have asked a court to stop the government from deporting him ahead of Monday’s Australian Open, saying the decision to cancel his visa was “manifestly irrational”.

The world number one faces a possible three-year ban for Australia. His lawyers applied for an injunction to prevent his deportation in a hearing late Friday night local time in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

Nick Wood, representing Djokovic, said the decision to annul the Serbian player’s visa was “obviously irrational”.

He suggested that Djokovic’s visa was canceled on the grounds that his presence in the country could fuel anti-vaccination sentiment, not because he was unvaccinated.

Mr Wood said Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had ‘affected’ Djokovic’s career over his anti-vaccination comments in 2020.

“The (immigration) minister is just considering the potential for exciting anti-vax sentiment in the event that he (Djokovic) is present,” Mr Wood said.

“But the alternative of forcibly removing this high-profile, legally compliant player, barring or affecting his ability to return to Australia for three years and derailing his career on the basis of statements made in 2020 is not at all contemplated by the Minister what effect that might have on anti-vax sentiment.”

Mr Wood said he would lodge an appeal by noon on Saturday and requested a hearing on Sunday, hours before the Australian Open was scheduled to start.

Steven Lloyd, acting on behalf of the Australian government, said authorities had no intention of detaining the tennis player overnight. He is scheduled to take part in an interview with immigration officials at 8am on Saturday.

After hearing from both attorneys, Judge Anthony Kelly, who overturned the original decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa earlier this week, ordered the tennis player’s attorneys to file their formal application as soon as possible.

He said the Australian government should not take any steps to deport Djokovic until the case is closed.

Judge Kelly also ordered the case to be referred to the Federal Court of Australia.

Djokovic was arrested on Saturday at his lawyer’s office or another undisclosed location where he is being patrolled by two Australian border guards and remains in custody as of 9am on Sunday for the hearing.

Mr Wood on Saturday raised concerns about a “media circus” and suggested Djokovic be held at a location that “will not be revealed to the world now”.

Judge Kelly countered, “Don’t put that at my feet,” adding, “On reflection, the obviousness of this circus could have occurred to anyone before 10:55 p.m. Friday.”

He granted Mr Wood’s request to change the order regarding Djokovic’s detention, meaning he can be detained at the law firm or “any other place agreed between the parties”.

Just before 6pm (7am UK time) on Friday, Mr Hawke released a statement saying he had decided to send Djokovic home “for reasons of health and good order”.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray said it was “not a good situation”, adding: “I’m not going to sit here and start kicking Novak while he’s down. It’s not a good situation for anyone.

“I just want it to be resolved obviously. I think it would be good for everyone if that were the case. It just seems like it’s dragging on for quite a while now and it’s not great for tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak.

Djokovic’s former coach and mentor Niki Pilic called the situation “shameful” and said the tennis player was being treated like a “criminal”.

He added: “People don’t understand what it means to be world champion, what strength, what will and what morals it takes.”

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