Australian minister denies Djokovic ‘being held captive’

Australian minister denies Djokovic ‘being held captive’

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews on Friday denied that tennis star Novak Djokovic was “being held captive” in Australia as the Serbian spent the night in a Melbourne immigration detention hotel while his lawyers were fighting his deportation.

Defending Australian Open champion Djokovic was detained at a Melbourne airport following his arrival in Australia on Wednesday after the Australian Border Force (ABF) raised concerns over his entry visa.

The Serbian had received a Covid-19 vaccination exemption from tournament organizers to compete in the event, which is set to start on January 17, but that was not enough for border officials, who cancelled his visa after he “failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia.”

Djokovic, who has consistently declined to reveal his vaccination status, was told he would have to leave Australia on Thursday, but his lawyers sought an appeal and a judge adjourned the case until Monday and barred the ABF from deporting him before 4 pm (0500 GMT) that day, according to local media.

“Mr Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia, he is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that,” Andrews told national broadcaster ABC on Friday.

The minister also confirmed that the ABF was looking into the visas of two unvaccinated tennis players who have entered the country to compete in the Australian Open.

Asked about why Djokovic appeared to have been singled out, Andrews cited the “multi-layered approach” to checking entries into the country, saying people can be asked at any point to provide evidence to prove they are eligible to enter Australia.

“So, that can be at the border, which is what happened in the case of Mr Djokovic. It could be earlier in the process as well, it could be at the point of boarding the aircraft to come into Australia,” she said.

“But… you are still required to have valid proof that you are able to be in Australia, and that’s why Border Force is investigating two other individuals, that I am aware of, in relation to whether or not they have the evidence to prove that they are eligible to be in Australia.”

The player’s father, Srdjan Djokovic, on Thursday accused the Canberra government of imprisoning his son and wanting to “humiliate him,” while Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic claimed the player was the victim of “political persecution” by the Australian government.

Serbia’s Foreign Ministry said it “expressed verbal protest” to the Australia’s ambassador in the country about the “inappropriate and inhumane treatment” Djokovic was being “exposed in Melbourne.”

Earlier this week, the Australian Open organizers had ended weeks of uncertainty by saying the nine-times champion would take part in the slam thanks to an exemption.

“Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts,” a statement said.

“One of those was the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel appointed by the Victorian Department of Health. They assessed all applications to see if they met the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) guidelines.”

News of the exemption to strict vaccination rules to enter Australia has sparked a huge backlash in the country.

Djokovic said last year he was opposed to forced vaccination.