Novak Djokovic detained in Australia ahead of landmark immigration hearing

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Djokovic, the best male tennis player in the world, has had his visa withdrawn twice by immigration authorities because he is not vaccinated against Covid-19.

The tennis star was interviewed by the Australian Border Force at 8am Saturday local time (4pm ET Friday). It was agreed between the two parties in the case that the location would remain “undisclosed” to the public in order to protect the tennis star and avoid a “media circus”.

Djokovic is expected to spend Saturday night in pre-immigration detention as his case is argued in the Federal Court of Australia.

At Saturday’s initial hearing, Judge David O’Callaghan, who is presiding over the case, said the court will hear detailed argument on Sunday.

If Djokovic’s appeal is successful, this schedule would allow him to enter the Australian Open draw on Monday.

The tournament, however, has been largely overshadowed by the much-publicized off-court saga pitting one of tennis’ biggest stars against Australian government and public health officials.

Djokovic’s visa was revoked for the second time on Friday by Alex Hawke, Australia’s immigration minister, but the government agreed not to deport Djokovic this weekend until his case is over.

Djokovic’s lawyer, Nicholas Wood, told the court the immigration minister used his personal power to cancel the 34-year-old’s visa on the grounds that he would ‘stir up anti-vax sentiment’ he remained in Australia, describing it as a “radically different approach” to the government’s case.

“The new underlying rationale is not a direct risk to others, it’s that Mr Djokovic being in Australia, Melbourne in particular, being here will excite anti-vax sentiment. That’s the point. A radically different approach,” Wood said.

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Under current Australian laws, all international arrivals must be vaccinated against Covid-19 – which Djokovic is not – unless they have a medical exemption.

Djokovic said he felt he could enter because two independent panels associated with Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government granted him an exemption on the grounds that he had been infected with Covid-19 in December. The federal government has argued that under its rules, prior infection with Covid-19 is not a valid reason for an exemption.

Djokovic’s legal team challenged Friday’s decision and the case was transferred to the Federal Court of Australia.

After an emergency hearing on Friday, Judge Kelly ruled that Djokovic should submit to an interview with Australian Border Force at an undisclosed location.

Kelly ordered authorities to detain Djokovic and escort him to his attorney’s office while his case appears in federal court.

Djokovic’s visa was first revoked shortly after arriving on January 5, but Kelly ruled earlier this week that border officials had been ‘unreasonable’ when they canceled his original visa to enter Australia. The judge then ordered Djokovic to be released from immigration detention.

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