Mask pow­ers to be tested as ac­tivists face off

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - CHIP LE GRAND

A con­fronta­tion be­tween far-right and hard-left ac­tivists in Mel­bourne to­mor­row will test the strength of new po­lice pow­ers in­tended to un­mask the an­tifa, a mil­i­tant protest move­ment that em­ploys face cov­er­ings to anony­mously tar­get neo-Nazi groups.

Laws that en­able Vic­to­ria Po­lice to dis­perse protesters who con­ceal their faces came into force this week, 72 hours be­fore an­tifa ac­tivists are ex­pected to march through cen­tral Mel­bourne to counter a tough-on-crime rally led by right-wing fig­ure Avi Yem­ini.

An­tifa ac­tivists say they need to wear masks to con­ceal their iden­tity from far-right groups and pro­tect them­selves against pep­per­spray at­tacks. Masks make it dif­fi­cult for po­lice to iden­tify protesters who dam­age prop­erty and as­sault ri­val protesters and po­lice.

For the first time since the an­tifa move­ment emerged in re­sponse to Re­claim Aus­tralia and other anti-Is­lamic groups, Vic­to­ria Po­lice will to­mor­row have the power to di­rect any­one wear­ing a face cov­er­ing to leave the area.

Masked protesters who refuse to leave can be charged. The max­i­mum penalty is a $792.85 fine. Also un­der the new laws, an of­fence of vi­o­lent dis­or­der at­tracts a greater penalty if the of­fender is wear­ing a mask. The max­i­mum penalty jumps from 10 years in jail to 15 if an of­fender con­ceals their face.

Po­lice in other ju­ris­dic­tions will as­sess the im­pact of the Vic­to­ria Po­lice pow­ers. In the ACT, traf­fic po­lice can force mo­torists to take off a mask and in NSW and WA po­lice can de­mand peo­ple take off masks to con­firm iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Vic­to­rian At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Martin Pakula said the in­tent of the laws was clear: “There is no place for vi­o­lent cow­ards who wear face masks to hide from the law.’’

Mr Yem­ini, who has or­gan­ised his Make Vic­to­ria Safe Again rally to pro­mote a hard­line law-and-or­der plat­form, urged those at his rally to show their faces. Deb­bie Bren­nan, an or­gan­iser of a counter-rally, said anti-fas­cist ac­tivists had a right to wear masks. “There is noth­ing sin­is­ter,’’ she said.

JAKE NOWAKOWSKI

Anti-fas­cists in Mel­bourne

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