Organisers to spread across city

Refugee advocates will spread themselves across Melbourne today to avoid hefty fines as they protest the indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

The Refugee Action Collective plans to hold eight rallies on Saturday attended by 20 people each despite warnings the protests could lead to COVID-19 outbreak.

The refugee activists initially planned two protests – one at the Mantra Bell City Hotel in Preston where some refugees are being held, and another at a detention centre in Broadmeadows – but were threatened with massive fines from police.

The Mantra Hotel houses refugees who have been in detention for almost seven years and who have been in lockdown there in what they say are crowded and unclean conditions.

“As a global wave of protest spreads against racism and police impunity, it is outrageous that Preston police are threatening refugee supporters with their own peculiar interpretation of health regulations,” Refugee Action Collective spokesman Chris Breen said on Friday.

It comes after about 300 people gathered in Sydney’s CBD to protest Aboriginal deaths in custody on Friday despite the rally being banned.

Protesters were outnumbered by more than 600 police officers in the city on Friday night, in an event deemed unlawful because NSW Police wasn’t formally notified.

Protesters chanted “Black lives matter” and “Not enough justice, too many coppers” while marching through Hyde Park.

The peaceful action was relatively brief, with police on horseback and foot forming a perimeter around Hyde Park’s Captain Cook statue as marshals began calling for people to disperse, go home and stay safe.

A crowd at Town Hall later broke up when police issued a final warning.

In Victoria Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said a gathering of more than 20 would breach the chief health officer’s legal directions, so Victoria Police would have the ability to take action.

“I would be discouraging any protest activity at this time regardless of the cause, regardless of the level of passion that people have about these issues,” Ms Mikakos said.

A protester who attended Melbourne’s Black Lives Matter rally last weekend tested positive for the coronavirus.

The non-indigenous man in his 30s wore a mask, was not symptomatic at Saturday’s protest and is unlikely to have contracted the virus at the event, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said.

But he was potentially infectious at the rally, which was attended by thousands. Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone has urged all attendees at the weekend’s protests to self-isolate for two weeks out of “an abundance of caution”.

The Refugee Action Collective has also planned rallies in Brisbane and Sydney for Saturday.

The Melbourne rallies will take place at:

• Australian Border Force offices in Docklands

• Broadmeadows detention centre

• Home Affairs office in Melbourne’s CBD

• Immigration minister’s electoral office in Wantirna South

• Liberal Party headquarters in Melbourne’s CBD

• Mantra Bell City Hotel in Preston

• State Library of Victoria

• Victoria Parliament House.

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