‘Freedom activist’ stays in custody after refusing to sign bail conditions
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A woman charged with incitement and accused of urging people to attend anti-lockdown protests remains in custody despite being granted bail, because she has refused to agree to conditions imposed by a magistrate.
Monica Smit, the founder of activist group Reignite Democracy Australia – which opposes the Victorian government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic – remained in custody at a Melbourne police station on Wednesday over her refusal to sign a bail consent form.
Monica Smit filmed herself during her arrest on Tuesday. Credit:Facebook
Ms Smit was granted bail on two charges of incitement and three of breaching the Chief Health Officer’s directions, but after a 10-minute conversation with her lawyer to clarify the conditions she had to accept to get bail, defence counsel Marcel White told Melbourne Magistrates Court the 33-year-old did not want to sign the consent form.
Magistrate Luisa Bazzani responded: “It’s a matter for her. I am not about to sweet talk her into bail if she wants to stay in custody.” Ms Bazzani ended the hearing shortly after.
Ms Smit was arrested on Tuesday and was to stay in custody at Dandenong police station on Wednesday night. The only way she could be released on bail was by agreeing to the magistrate’s conditions and signing the consent form, or by taking her bail application to a higher court.
Police allege Ms Smit incited people on social media to attend two anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne last month, including the violent August 21 event where at least 4000 people demonstrated and where at least nine police officers were injured.
Prosecutor Anthony Albore said Ms Smit used the messaging app Telegram to encourage people to attend the protests. Ms Smit’s group has 18,000 followers on Telegram, the prosecutor said, as well as 67,000 followers on Facebook and an email list of 63,000 people.
Court documents state that in the lead-up to the August 11 protest, Ms Smit posted that “lockdowns take lives” and urged people to demonstrate.
She also posted numerous messages before the August 21 protest, the documents allege, including: “The more they lock us up, the more people will have nothing left to lose … and that’s when Australia stands up!”
Other posts encouraged people to wear masks while travelling to the protest but to take them off once in central Melbourne. Another message said: “Stand up Melbourne”.
Prosecutors did not oppose Ms Smit getting bail as long as it was subject to conditions.
After legal argument over the conditions, Ms Bazzani ruled that if Ms Smit was to get bail she had to abide by a 7pm curfew, abide by the Chief Health Officer’s directions and not incite anyone to breach those directions or publish anything that might incite breaches. She also had to remove any material previously published online that might incite people, not attend protests, and had to wear a mask when outdoors unless she had a medical exemption.
The magistrate refused to include two conditions proposed by police: a call for Reignite Democracy Australia’s social media accounts to be deactivated, and an order which would have prohibited online discussions about lockdown measures. Ms Bazzani said those two proposals would “overstep the mark”.
Mr White earlier argued some of the conditions would unfairly prohibit “public discourse” and “silence editorial commentary” on lockdown rules. Some proposals were too onerous given Ms Smit faced fines as maximum penalties, the court heard.
Ms Smit, a self-described journalist, was arrested in Brighton on Tuesday, not long after filming herself talking about small-scale anti-lockdown protests.
She faces a further two charges of breaching the Chief Health Officer’s directions by attending a protest in Melbourne on October 31 last year.
She is next due to face court on November 10.
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