Article by Dr Jim Saleam
Mr Simeon Boikov of Sydney’s famed ‘Australian Cossack Society’ has tested the law on freedom of assembly under coronavirus ‘lockdown’ orders. He has set a precedent for all citizens who feel burdened by current restrictions.
Taking the initiative on Monday night, he called upon his friends to assemble at Rodd Park in Sydney’s inner west on Wednesday at 2 pm. He urged them to observe ‘social distancing rules’ and take their daily ‘exercise’ by walking in file down Henley Marine Drive. It was suggested they carry the National Flag, or the Eureka Flag – and a few relevant picket signs.
Mr Boikov took his stand a couple of days after thousands of Sydneysiders protested ‘lockdown’ with a parade from Broadway to Town Hall. Police arrested many people and have issued fines to others. A seventy-strong police task force (sic) was reportedly taken off other duties to trawl through various social media accounts and to also place police video and other footage through photographic recognition technology such that hundreds (?) of people could be identified and charged with participation in an assembly that violated health orders.
Mr Boikov said that he “did not favour this sort of disorderly protest”. Rather, he reasoned that “hundreds” of small actions “could take place across the metropolitan area”. They would “be certain to be non-violent” and of “no assistance to a government preoccupied with suppression of freedom of assembly”.
As it was the unseasonably warm weather lent itself to his protest. However, the response of the authorities (despite permission having been given by Burwood Police), put a cloud over the event.
This writer arrived early, having been invited as the reporter on the event, but police were already on hand. As Mr Boikov arrived just before 2 pm with a National Flag protruding from his vehicle and the strains of Waltzing Matilda quite audible, five police surrounded the vehicle.
Being able to get quite close, I could have been confused with being yet another journo – like the reporter and the cameraman from the ABC – I had some license to write down the conversation.
Choice lines include: Police – “You have a warning to leave the area”; you may be “in breach of the Minister’s Health Orders”; Replies – “We are exercising our rights as Australians”; “what is wrong with appearing with the Australian Flag?”; “This is intimidation” “harassment”. Police: “But you cannot drive with a protruding flag”. “We don’t believe you are here to exercise”. Reply – “Why so many police?”; “the Highway Patrol confirmed our right”. And so, it went until police agreed it was fine to observe social distancing rules and walk carrying flags or signs.
Meanwhile, four riot squad vehicles arrived and other police cars. As police conversation with Mr Boikov proceeded with both parties filming/recording each other, police ‘moved on’ several persons who sought to join the event. Police insisted they were “not here to exercise”, but to “make a political statement”. One man was issued a “warning” that he was outside his “ten-kilometre radius” and was ordered away. I was also queried and asked to produce identification, but I passed that test. By then, over twenty police were in attendance, an appalling waste of police resources.
Finally, after long discourse, only some five Boikov supporters were left in the park. Mr Boikov took a one-man five-minute walk in one direction and returned. He asked this writer to pose with him “in the interests of freedom of assembly” which I was happy to do, while a member of Australia First snapped the pic.
As Mr Boikov was finalising his discussion with the ABC journalist two remarkable things happened.
Firstly, the journo admitted that he was “new” to the job, but his boss had said it was likely that this was a “far-right” protest and that “arrests” would follow. He was told to get photographic material on the arrests. The journo said, given nothing like this had occurred, and despite the legal precedent reasonably set – that the ABC would “almost certainly not run the story”. It would seem more than freedom of assembly was under attack. Was the ABC looking to do some hatchet job?
Secondly, a police car pulled up and the officer asked a few quick questions about what had been going on. He then said that he thought the police had overacted and that, with a few fair precautions, there was nothing wrong with Mr Boikov’s assembly. He wished him the best and drove off. One wonders, how many other cops feel the same way?
It was now 3 pm. Another supporter arrived and Mr Boikov continued ‘protesting’ on the road with him while I had a conversation with the Australia First member. Out of the blue, two further police cars appeared with five officers. Our details were taken and the lady was told she may “get an infringement for violating the ten-kilometre radius rule”. My COPS records (Computerised Operational Policing System) appeared to cause a little consternation, but satisfied that I did have “a reason” to be here previously, I was not “exercising” now and I was told: “You have an order to leave the area.” The lady also received the same order. A friend of Mr Boikov filmed this last phase of the day, passing comment to the police that “this bloke is an Australian patriot and directs a registered political party”. I added: “I am writing about this event for political purposes.” Is it so hard to exercise one’s civil liberty?
All up, a good day for the freedom of assembly. It would seem that police are obliged to permit (sic) simple ‘demonstrations’ which combine themselves with ‘exercising’ and which obey general health orders.
Mr Boikov is to be commended for his stand.