NOVAK Djokovic’s lawyers slammed the “perverse” decision to cancel the tennis star’s visa and denied he’s an “antivax hero” in a last-ditch appeal showdown.
The 34-year-old world number one faces a humiliating deportation just hours before the Australian Open begins and even being frogmarched to the airport under armed guard if his final appeal fails.
After listening to arguments from both sides, the hearing was adjourned and a ruling could be announced as early as this afternoon or tomorrow morning.
Before the hearing, Djokovic was snapped wearing a white mask and looking tense as he was whisked from his hotel detention to meet with his legal team.
Senior judges agreed to hear the emergency appeal on Sunday, two days after the government cancelled Djoko’s visa for the second time on Friday evening.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said he had exercised his powers on grounds of “health and good order” despite an earlier successful appeal.
He claimed the unvaccinated tennis star’s presence in Australia could trigger rallies and “civil unrest” and also encourage its citizens to not get jabbed against Covid.
Mr Hawke said he accepted Djokovic’s recent Covid infection meant he was a “negligible risk to those around him” – but he was “perceived by some as a talisman of a community of anti-vaccine sentiment”.
He said: “I consider that Mr Djokovic’s ongoing presence in Australia may lead to an increase in anti-vaccination sentiment generated in the Australian community, potentially leading to an increase in civil unrest of the kind previously experienced in Australia with rallies and protests which may themselves be a source of community transmission.”
But during today’s hearing, Djokovic’s barrister Nick Wood picked holes in the minister’s legal justifications for revoking his visa.
He claimed the government had been “somewhat perverse” in taking a “narrow lens” in making out Djokovic’s presence in Oz was a risk to public health.
? Read our Novak Djokovic live blog for the latest updates
Mr Wood dismissed the minister’s argument that Djokovic’s presence in Oz presents a risk to the “good order”.
He said there was “no evidence at all” his presence so far had stirred up anti-vaccine sentiment in Australia.
And he claimed the anti-vax community would be aggravated just as much by his forced deportation as by allowing him to compete.
Mr Wood also said it was “plainly wrong” to suggest Djokovic had become a hero for anti-vaxxers and the champ’s previous comments about the vaccine were taken out of context.
It comes after chaos erupted following claims Djokovic was arrested after his anti-vax court win, with cops firing pepper-spray at fans.
Pictures show tumultuous scenes as fuming supporters of the tennis ace swarmed a car leaving his lawyer’s office as police battled to move them on.
Hundreds of outraged Djokovic supporters formed huge crowds outside his lawyer’s office in Melbourne as groups blocked a car they believed to be carrying the tennis star.
Fans clashed with police who used pepper-spray in a bid to control them as they chanted Djokovic’s nickname and hurled bottles as tensions escalated.
Fears are mounting over further riots after Djokovic arrived at Melbourne’s Park Hotel – the same immigration detention centre where he was held last week – just before 3.30pm on Saturday (4.30am UK time).
A dozen refugee activists chanted “stop the torture… let them out” as the tennis star and Border Force guards drove into the underground car park of the hotel.
It will be a second stint in detention for Djokovic, who spent his first four nights in Australia in the hotel before a judge freed him on Monday.
Djokovic met with immigration officials and Border Force earlier on Saturday for a secret showdown at an undisclosed location before he was hauled back to the hotel once again.
POTENTIAL THREE-YEAR BAN
The saga over anti-vaxxer Djokovic’s jab status began when his visa was revoked when he first landed Down Under on January 5.
Australian border Force officials said he had “failed to provide appropriate evidence” to receive a vaccine exemption.
The star spent hours a the airport and then spent days at an immigration hotel.
But the latest twist saw the Australian government revoke his visa again, overturning a successful appeal that saw him released from detention.
During a special night time court hearing on Friday, his legal team immediately launched a desperate last minute bid for him to stay in the country.
Djokovic’s lawyers said they would argue his deportation would only further fan anti-vaxx sentiment – and would be as much a threat to public health as letting him stay and exempting him from Australia’s vaccine requirement.
Judge Anthony Kelly has ordered the federal government not take any steps to remove the star from Australia before his appeal is resolved.
If successful, Djokovic could be playing fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of the Australian Open, which begins on Monday and for which he is the number one seed.
If he loses his appeal and is deported then he would banned from Australia for three years.
He will be 37 by the time he is able to return to the the country and play in the Australian Open.
The nine-time Australian Open winner was hoping to defend his title next week.
If he won it would make him the most successful male tennis player in history with a record 21 Grand Slam titles.
Melbourne-based immigration lawyer Kian Bone said Djokovic’s lawyers would now need to get two urgent orders for him to stay and play.
One order would be an injunction preventing his deportation, such as what he won in court last week.
The second would force Hawke to grant Djokovic a visa to play.
“They are keeping him like a prisoner, it’s just not fair, it’s not human.”
If the court rules his deportation from Australia, Djokovic faces being escorted to the plane by armed cops.
According to the gotocourt legal website, if an application to stay is refused then a person will be arrested and removed from Australia.
“Unless you leave voluntarily, you will be arrested and removed from Australia,” writes lawyer Michelle Makela on the website.
Djokovic could also be jailed after admitting he broke Serbian isolation rules after testing positive for Covid in December.
In a lengthy statement, Djokovic admitted he defied rules and took part in a photo shoot and interview with French newspaper L’Equipe in an “error of judgement”.
He confessed that he met with a journalist two days after he tested positive in Belgrade, before his arrival Down Under.
The sports star posed maskless for a photo shoot, but says he wore a face covering for the rest of the meeting.
He claims he felt “obliged” to fulfil the interview arrangement as he “didn’t want to let the journalist down”, but has admitted he should have “rearranged”.
Under Serbian law, breaking Covid rules can result in a jail sentence of up to three years.