More than 400 people arrested at anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne

By Elias Visontay

A policewoman was taken to hospital after she was injured when officers shut down a large anti-lockdown rally and arrested more than 400 protesters in Melbourne’s CBD.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Victorian parliament on Tuesday to oppose the state government’s strict Covid-19 lockdowns in Melbourne that were eased last week, holding up signs that read “Tell the Truth”, “Not Happy Dan”, “Masks Don’t Work” and “Corona Hoax 1984”.

A Victoria police spokeswoman told Guardian Australia the force “was disappointed to arrest a large number of protestors who again showed disregard for the safety of the broader community and the directions of the chief health officer”.

Restrictions in Melbourne currently allow for protests of groups up to 10 people within 25km of a home while wearing a mask. But police said they arrested 404 people after forming a large circle around the group to contain the protest just after midday.

Of those arrested, 395 people were fined for a range of offences including failing to wear a mask, breaching public gathering limits, defying the 25km radius rule, as well as assaulting police and failing to state their name and address.

“Victoria police will not hesitate to fine those who clearly and blatantly breach the chief health officer directions,” the spokeswoman said.

A female senior sergeant was taken to hospital with a suspected broken arm following an arrest, the force said. In a separate incident, a male officer fell to the ground after appearing to get into a scuffle with a protester who was then pinned to the ground and arrested.

Capsicum spray was used to disperse the crowd with paramedics assessing a protester’s eyes.

The Labor health minister, Martin Foley, said keeping Victoria safe and open was more important than the democratic right to protest.

“People who want to get around the rules, in smart-alec approaches, are just asking for trouble,” Foley said before Tuesday’s demonstration. “Don’t protest. Now is not the time to protest. Keep safe, follow the rules and keep us open.”

The opposition police spokesman, David Southwick, agreed, although he suggested there was “confusion” over police enforcement of protests while referencing a Black Lives Matter rally in early July.

“It does seem in Victoria [there is] one set of rules for one lot of people but another set of rules when you’re protesting against Daniel Andrews,” Southwick said.

It was a view echoed by Liberal Democrats MP David Limbrick, who attended the rally. “Were they treated differently? Absolutely yes. Shocking,” he tweeted.

The group behind Tuesday’s rally has pledged further protests, saying they won’t forget the more than 100 days the city spent in lockdown.

- with Australian Associated Press