Victoria Police confirmed that they are monitoring social media activity ahead of planned protests against the state’s controversial COVID-19 lockdown.
“Victoria Police is aware and monitoring potential protest activity planned for this weekend. We are currently making a number of enquiries in relation to this and remain in the process of planning our operation response,” Victoria Police Media Unit Supervisor Sam Bidey told The Epoch Times in a statement.
Bidey confirmed the focus is on suspected organisers and not a blanket approach to anyone but he did not reveal how this is determined.
“Victoria Police will not be providing a running commentary on where and how police conduct their daily enforcement activities,” said Bidey.
Victoria Police are empowered to take stronger action on “prohibited gatherings” under the state of emergency powers legislated by Parliament this month.
A local resident, Luke Martinez, told The Epoch Times the police sent him a warning letter on Sept. 8 after he “liked” content on social media about the planned protest.
“They told me that they were informed that I had liked a post on Facebook indicating that I was going to a protest,” said Martinez.
Martinez posted a photo of the letter to Facebook, it reads: “Victoria police understands you are planning to participate in a protest on Sunday 13 September 2020, within the Melbourne Metropolitan area.”
It then goes on to warn Martinez that it is a breach of the Chief Health Officer’s directions to leave home for any reason other than essential shopping, exercise, providing or seeking health care, or attending work. The letter warns him that if he is caught organising or participating in a protest he could be issued an on the spot fine of $1,652.
Discontent about lockdown measures in the state has increased in recent weeks after the Victoria government extended the state of emergency powers for six months after the initial legislated six-month period came to an end. Stage four restrictions were also extended by two weeks.
In light of Buhler’s arrest, human rights advocates and COVIDPolice partners Liberty Victoria raised their concerns about how police are conducting pre-emptive arrests.
“The prospect of pre-emptive arrest and the laying of criminal charges to prevent engagement in peaceful protest is a disturbing development,” Liberty Victoria Senior Vice-President Sam Norton said in a media release on Sept. 3.
When the Melbourne lockdown ends it will be one of the longest in the world—longer even than the lockdown in Wuhan, China where the outbreak originated.