Government says tennis player can be detained again even if he wins

Federal government lawyers argue tennis star Novak Djokovic could be “arrested” again if he wins an appeal against the last-minute visa revocation, and have denied his “so-called medical exemption” will be accepted.

In a 13-page response published late Sunday to the Serbian Federal Circuit Court’s appeal, the Minister of Internal Affairs argued that Djokovic’s allegations of “procedural unfairness” and “illogicality” were unfounded.

His letter from the Australian Tennis Club did not mention “any medical reason for the applicant not to be vaccinated”.

Novak Djokovic has been booked into an immigration detention hotel as the world's No. 1 men's tennis player awaits a court ruling on whether he can compete in the Australian Open later this month.
Novak Djokovic has been booked into an immigration detention hotel as the world’s No. 1 men’s tennis player awaits a court ruling on whether he can compete in the Australian Open later this month. (AFP)

The memo urged the court to avoid ordering the “immediate release” of the 34-year-old and argued that even if such an order was issued, it would not prevent Djokovic’s “re-arrest”.

The government said that scrapping the cancellation would not guarantee the nine-times Australian Open the chance to defend his title in 2021, saying the minister could then decide whether to take “another cancellation decision”.

“It is sufficient for the court to annul the decision,” the request said.

“From the time these orders are issued, the respondent will act on the basis that the applicant’s visa has not been revoked.”

The ministry sent a document to Djokovic on January 1, saying that his responses in the Australian travel statement “indicate that[d] who – which [he met] Requirements to arrive in Australia without quarantine as the jurisdiction permits your access,” reports Djokovic’s lawyers, published late on Saturday.

Looking at the email, “visa ineligible with any relevant condition” and “waiver” from the AO organizers, Djokovic realized he was entitled to enter Australia and Victoria and compete in the Australian Open.

The spotlight will be on Novak Djokovic in court on Monday. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair, File) (AFP)

But the minister’s lawyer said the administration’s email did not mention Djokovic’s “medical exemption” would be accepted.

The lawyers simply said that the applicant’s responses to the Australian traveler’s declaration indicated that it met the requirements for ‘quarantine-free’ travel to Australia.

“But this does not refer to the Secretary’s (or her delegate)’s authority to question those responses, the evidence on which they were based, and to conclude that the power to rescind was revived by law upon his arrival in Australia,” they wrote.

His appeal, in which his lawyers disclosed a “certificate of exemption” for Tennis Australia on the basis of a positive PCR test for COVID-19 on December 16, is due to be presented in court at 10am on Monday.

Djokovic’s lawyers argue that – within the past six months – this diagnosis provides a medical reason against vaccination under Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI) guidelines.

The government rejects this claim, citing this line in the ATAGI Guidelines: “Past infection with SARS-CoV-2 is not a contraindication to vaccination.”

The positive PCR test itself emerged as a controversial topic over the weekend thanks to photos shared by fans on social media.

Djokovic appears at an event at the Novak Tennis Center in Belgrade to honor young tennis players on December 17, the day after the test. It is unclear if he knows the result of his test at that point.

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