Novak Djokovic stuck in hotel for detained asylum seekers as lawyers fight Australian ban

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MELBOURNE – Novak Djokovic faced at least 72 hours locked up in a Melbourne hotel for immigration detainees after he was refused entry to Australia on Thursday amid a political storm over his medical exemption COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

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The tennis star, who is chasing a record 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open, has remained in the country after his lawyers appealed to overturn the federal government’s decision. A court agreed not to evict him until a full hearing scheduled for Monday.

The saga, fueled by domestic political points over the country’s handling of a record rise in new COVID-19 infections, has led to an international row, with Serbia’s president claiming his country’s most famous sportsman is being harassed .

“They keep him as a prisoner,” Djokovic’s mother Dijana told the family restaurant in Belgrade. “It’s not fair. It’s not human.

She said she spoke to the champ on Thursday and he was having trouble falling asleep. “His terrible accommodation. It’s just a small immigration hotel, if it’s a hotel. With insects, it’s all dirty. The food is awful.

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the decision to deny Djokovic entry during a televised press briefing.

“There are no special cases, the rules are the rules,” he said. “We will continue to make the right decisions when it comes to securing Australia’s borders from this pandemic.”

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Spanish champion Rafael Nadal told reporters in Melbourne he felt sorry for his rival “but at the same time he had known the conditions for several months”.

Djokovic, who has always refused to disclose his vaccination status while publicly criticizing mandatory vaccines, sparked furor when he said on Instagram on Tuesday that he had received a medical exemption to compete in the Open from January 17. .

The announcement caused uproar in Australia, particularly in tournament host city Melbourne, which has endured the world’s longest cumulative lockdown to stave off coronavirus.

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LEGAL BATTLE OVER EXEMPTION

At a hearing in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia on Thursday evening, Djokovic’s lawyers and the government agreed the player could stay in the country until at least Monday.

Djokovic’s fate is linked to a political struggle in Australia, characterized by accusations between Morrison’s conservative administration and the left-leaning Victorian government over his medical exemption.

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The rows erupted as Australia’s daily COVID-19 infections hit a record high for the fourth consecutive day, overwhelming hospitals and causing labor shortages.

Under Australia’s federal system, states and territories can grant exemptions from vaccination requirements to enter their jurisdictions. However, the federal government controls international borders and can challenge these exemptions.

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Djokovic received his exemption from the Victorian government. Although the reason for his medical exemption has not been officially published, Melbourne newspaper The Age reported on Thursday that it was on the basis that he had contracted COVID-19 within the past six months.

Upon arrival, however, Federal Border Force officials at the airport said Djokovic was unable to substantiate the reasons for his exemption.

The Australian working group that sets the parameters for exemption lists the risk of serious heart disease from inoculation and infection with COVID-19 within the last six months as qualifiers. But Morrison said Tennis Australia was told weeks ago that a recent infection did not meet the exemption criteria.

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Tennis Australia and Victoria government officials said Djokovic had not received any preferential treatment.

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With the Open due to start on January 17, Nick Wood, a lawyer for Djokovic, earlier told judge Anthony Kelly that Tennis Australia had advised to find out about his participation in the tournament by Tuesday.

In response, Kelly, who had asked when Djokovic was due to play his first game, said: “If I may say with due respect, the tail won’t be wagging the dog here.”

“NOT HUMAN AND NOT FAIR”

The Australian government’s decision to block Djokovic’s entry has caused a stir between Canberra and Belgrade.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Twitter that he spoke with Djokovic and accused the Australian government of harassment.

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“This persecution is unjust, starting with the Australian Prime Minister,” he later told Serbian media. “They act like the same set of rules apply to everyone, but they let other people in on the same grounds that Novak applied.”

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Morrison said he was aware that “demarches were made” by the Serbian embassy in Canberra, but denied the accusations of harassment.

Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, told Serbian media his son was taken to an isolation room under police guard when he arrived at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport late Wednesday after a 14-hour flight from Dubai.

His family held an emotional press conference at Djokovic’s restaurant in Belgrade, with his previous nine Australian Open trophies on display, before protesting outside parliament.

“They keep him captive. They trample all over Novak to trample all of Serbia,” said his father, who previously described his son to local media as “the Spartacus of the new world.”

There was also support in the streets of the Serbian capital.

“He is the best in the history of this sport and they can’t break him other than by this one. But they won’t break him,” Belgrade resident Zdravko Cukic said.

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