Sunday, January 16, 2022

Novak Djokovic in custody again ahead of appeal over visa annulment

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The Serbian tennis champion faces deportation and a three-year ban from Australia if he loses his appeal in a dispute over whether he had an exemption from Australia’s Covid vaccine requirements

Novak Djokovic is again detained in a quarantine hotel before a showdown court hearing against his visa to Australia is canceled for a second time.

The Serbian tennis champion faces deportation and a three-year ban from Australia if he loses his appeal to Australia’s federal court in a dispute over whether he had a valid exemption from the country’s Covid vaccine requirements.

He was driven back to the Park Hotel ahead of a hearing Sunday at 9.30am in Melbourne, which takes place at 10.30pm UK time on Saturday night.

Judge David O’Callaghan held a brief hearing Saturday morning that confirmed the case was moving to federal court.

On Friday, Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his ministerial discretion to revoke the world No. 1’s visa on grounds of public interest ahead of the Australian Open, which is due to start on Monday.

Mr Hawke cited Djokovic’s status as a “high profile unvaccinated person who has publicly stated that he is opposed to vaccination against Covid-19” and said he had “publicly expressed anti-vaccination sentiment”.

He went on to say that not canceling Djokovic’s visa as a “high profile unvaccinated person” could deter Australians from getting vaccinated.

“I think his continued presence in Australia could pose a risk to the good order of the Australian community,” Hawke said.

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

He said Mr Hawke had “impacted” on Djokovic’s career over his anti-vaccination comments made in 2020.

Djokovic is scheduled to play on the opening day of the tournament to defend his title.

The 20-time Grand Slam winner was arrested at Melbourne Airport last Thursday morning by Border Force officers who said he did not have the correct papers to enter the country.

Djkokovic’s legal team appealed as he had tested positive on December 16 and had an exception due to natural immunity.

But while Tennis Australia accepted that argument, the Australian government insisted no such federal exemption existed.

In a first successful appeal against his deportation, Judge Anthony Kelly ruled that Djokovic was not given sufficient time to respond after being told his visa had been cancelled.

The Australian government’s immigration authorities exercised their right to cancel his visa for the second time on Friday, leaving the world No. 1 facing deportation.

Djokovic has admitted his declaration form falsely claimed he had not traveled in the 14 days leading up to his trip to Australia, which he blamed on a mistake made by his agent.

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