Australia has been accused of a “political witch hunt” and deliberately attempting to humiliate Novak Djokovic, as international upset grows over his cancelled visa.
After arriving in Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport on Wednesday with a medical exemption granted by Australian Open organisers, he was quickly detained by Border Force officials for failing to “provide appropriate evidence” of double vaccination or a medical exemption.
The tennis star has been placed in a Melbourne detention facility and is expected to stay there over the weekend until his Federal Court hearing on Monday, when he will appeal the last-minute visa cancellation.
However, Serbian president Aleksander Vučić has claimed the World No. 1 was being hounded as other players have been allowed to enter the country with medical exemptions.
“What is not fair-play is the political witch hunt (being conducted against Novak), by everybody including the Australian Prime Minister pretending that the rules apply to all,” Vučić told the media.
The president said Serbian authorities had contacted Australian ambassadors twice, and that Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic would be in touch with a senior member of Australia’s Department of Home Affairs.
The Serbians will ask that Djokovic, at the very least, should stay in the house he had rented for the Australian Open while his appeal is heard, rather than in the hotel he has been sent to.
“I fear that this relentless political pursuit of Novak will continue until the moment they can prove something, because when you cannot defeat somebody then you turn to these types of things,” Vučić said.
When asked whether she agreed with the President, Ms Brnabic said Djokovic was receiving different treatment to other players and “that is what makes us think it’s political”.
“We will try to do our best to make sure Novak is treated equally and gets all the rights he’s entitled to. That is the only thing I can say,” she told Sky News UK in an interview.
“And Serbia stands by Novak. I stand by Novak. All of our people stand by Novak and his family in these difficult times.”
Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, said Australia should be ashamed of its treatment of his son and called for the “whole free world together with Serbia” to rise up.
“Novak and his team filed the same type of documents, as those 25 other tennis players (with exemptions) and it didn’t have any problems, just Novak,” he said.
“They wanted to humiliate him. They could have said don’t come Novak, and that would have been okay.
“But no, they wanted to humiliate him, and they’re still keeping him in prison. He’s not in detention. He’s in prison.”
Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 5, 2022
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the medical exemptions of the other Australian Open entrants are being investigated, reiterating that Djokovic’s evidence for his medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccination was the issue, not his visa.
“It was the entry requirements,” she said on Friday.
“It was actually the evidence of vaccination that every single person who comes into Australia has to prove that they have been vaccinated or prove that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.”
Despite these claims, demonstrations have been held in the Serbian capital of Belgrade protesting Djokovic’s detainment. Several hundred people, led by Djokovic’s father Srdjan, gathered in front of Serbia’s parliament with flags and homemade signs.
Protestors gathered outside Serbia’s parliament in Belgrade, carrying signs, flags, and images of Djokovic. The sign pictured reads: “Freedom for Tennis No. 1 Novak”. Image: Getty Images
“We are not calling for violence … only for support (for Novak)”, Srdjan shouted into a megaphone.
“They’re keeping him in captivity. They’re stomping all over Novak to stomp all over Serbia and Serbian people,” Srdjan added.
“Morrison and his like have dared attack Novak to bring Serbia to its knees. Serbia has always shown that he comes from a proud nation.
“This has nothing to do with sports, this is a political agenda. Novak is the best player and the best athlete in the world, but several hundred million people from the West can’t stomach that.
“You, famous Prime Minister of the faraway naturally beautiful country, are behaving according to your own principles, which have nothing to do with us and our principles.
“We are humans, and you, sir, are not.
“Jesus was crucified on the cross … but he is still alive among us. They are trying to crucify and belittle Novak and throw him to his knees.”
Elsewhere in Serbia, reactions to the situation were more mixed.
“They do not let in their country people from other continents who have mud on their shoes let alone someone who is not vaccinated against a contagious disease,” Mihailo Kljajic, a 29-year-old flight attendant, told AFP.
“I don’t know what he expected would happen.”
Image: Getty Images
This article first appeared on OverSixty.