Global anti-racism protests face bans over virus concerns

Outrage over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has spread worldwide, but many foreign governments are banning local protests, citing public health risks in a pandemic.

Ahn Young-joon/AP
South Koreans protest the death of George Floyd, who died under police custody in Minneapolis, near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, on June 5, 2020.

An Australian court sided with police in ruling on Friday that a Black Lives Matter protest planned for Sydney poses too much risk for spreading the coronavirus and cannot be held.

Thousands of people were expected to rally in Australia’s largest city on Saturday afternoon to honor George Floyd and to protest against the deaths of indigenous Australians in custody.

But New South Wales state Supreme Court Justice Des Fagan ruled the rally was not an authorized public assembly. Mr. Fagan said he understood the rally was designed to coincide with similar events in other countries.

“I don’t diminish the importance of the issues and no one would deny them in normal circumstances,” he said. “No one denies them that but we’re talking about a situation of a health crisis.”

In Sydney, outdoor gatherings are restricted to 10 people, while up to 50 people can go to funerals, places of worship, restaurants, pubs, and cafes.

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said organizers initially proposed a protest, but protesters could not guarantee social distancing protocols would be followed.

“All of us have given up so much and worked so hard to make sure we get on top of the virus,” Ms. Berejiklian told reporters.

Earlier Friday, demonstrators in the capital reminded the country that racial inequality is not an American issue alone.

Organizers of the Canberra rally that attracted about 2,000 demonstrators handed out masks and hand sanitizer. Most protesters kept a recommended social distance but drew closer to hear speeches. Public gatherings are limited to 20 in Canberra, but police did not intervene.

School teacher Wendy Brookman, a member of the Butchulla indigenous people, said Australia should not accept that more than 430 indigenous Australians have died in police custody or prison in the past three decades.

“We’re not here to jump on the bandwagon of what’s happened in the United States,” Ms. Brookman said. “We’re here to voice what’s happening to our indigenous people.”

One of the protesters’ signs read “I can’t breathe" and drew a parallel between Mr. Floyd’s death in the United States on May 25 and the Australian indigenous experience. Those words were among the last spoken by Mr. Floyd and also an indigenous Australian, David Dungay, who died in a prison hospital in 2015 while being restrained by five guards.

In South Korea, dozens gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy to condemn what they described as police brutality toward protesters in the U.S. They called for South Korea’s government to speak against the “racial discrimination and state violence” of its ally and pushed for an anti-discrimination law to improve the lives of migrant workers, undocumented foreigners, and other minorities.

“As the U.S. civil society empowered and stood in solidarity with Korean pro-democracy activists in the past, we will now stand in solidarity with citizens in the United States,” said activist Lee Sang-hyun, referring to South Koreans’ bloody struggles against military dictatorships that ruled the country until the late 1980s.

Holding a banner that read “Justice for Floyd,” most of the protesters wore black and some brought flowers in honor of Mr. Floyd, who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his neck with a knee for several minutes while he pleaded for air.

Larger marches are planned in Seoul on Saturday to protest Mr. Floyd’s death.

Police have banned a planned protest against police violence in Paris on Saturday because of health measures restricting gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

A protest decrying systemic racism and calling for justice for Mr. Floyd and other victims of police brutality was planned to take place outside the U.S. Embassy.

But on Friday, Police Prefect Didier Lallement said such protests “are not authorized” because virus safety measures “prohibit any gathering, in the public space, of more than 10 people.” He issued an order banning the Floyd demonstration and another protest planned for the same day.

Mr. Lallement said “in addition to the disturbances to public order that these rallies can generate ... the health risks they could cause remain significant.”

Meanwhile, the Islamic State group says protests across the United States and the repercussions of the coronavirus on Western countries will weaken these nations and divert their attention from Muslim countries.

The comments published Friday in an editorial in the extremist group's online weekly newspaper Al-Nabaa were its first on protests in America after last week’s death of Mr. Floyd while a policeman put a knee to his neck.

Al-Nabaa said protests have been occurring in the U.S. since it was founded, but this year “coincide with the negative effects of the pandemic on the country’s economy.” Al-Nabaa said the pandemic will weaken “infidel states.”

In recent weeks, the militants have taken advantage of the pandemic to launch deadly attacks in their former self-declared caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.

South Africa’s ruling party says it is launching a “Black Friday” campaign in response to the “heinous murder” of Mr. Floyd and “institutionalized racism” in the U.S., at home, in China, and “wherever it rears its ugly head.”

A statement by the African National Congress says President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday evening will address the launch of the campaign that calls on people to wear black on Fridays in solidarity.

The campaign is also meant to highlight “deaths by citizens at the hands of security forces” in South Africa, which remains one of the world’s most unequal countries a quarter-century after the end of the racist system of apartheid.

“The demon of racism remains a blight on the soul of our nation,” the ANC statement says.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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