Police are expected to show a visible presence at an anti-lockdown protest being organised in Auckland today by Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki, and are warning protesters could be arrested.
A police spokeswoman said officers would monitor the rally, while reserving the right to arrest or fine those breaching Covid restrictions.
“Police will be monitoring the situation and responding accordingly,” she said.
“Police recognise and respect people’s lawful right to protest. However, under level 3 restrictions, the only gatherings allowed are weddings, funerals and tangihanga with no more than 10 people.”
“Police do have the ability to take enforcement action, including issuing infringement notices, summonsing to court and making arrests, for those found to be breaching the restrictions currently in place.”
Tamaki’s rally is getting under way this morning in Auckland after he met top police bosses Andrew Coster and Wally Haumaha last week.
The three discussed health and safety measures for the rally.
“The three of us had a Zoom meeting and they recognise it is a part of the Bill of Rights for people to protest,” Tamaki said at the time.
“We are trying to be responsible, and they said it is something they can’t stop. We agreed to cooperate and we will make sure we are Covid responsible.
“Commissioner Coster asked for masks to be a condition, which I agreed to. It is a small compromise.”
After the meeting, Coster wrote to Tamaki to summarise what was discussed.
Coster wrote while it was unusual for him to be involved in a discussion of that kind it reflected his concern about the level of interest in the gathering and its potential size.
“I do not wish to end up in the position that other jurisdictions have when policing protest activity, and prefer to take a preventative approach,” he said.
“I note that the current health order requires that people do not leave their homes except for essential personal movement, which creates a risk to those attending this planned event. Police respects that protest is part of a free and well-functioning democracy.
“However, that must be weighed against the lawfulness and reasonableness of the protest activity. As we have indicated, gathering for a protest run other than in compliance with the law carries with it the risk of Covid transmission and may lead to enforcement action, including against yourself as an organiser,” Coster said.
Coster told Tamaki he was concerned with the positioning of the protest and the particular use of the phrase “Let’s get arrested”.
“We would ask that you clarify your public messaging on this point, i.e. be clear that you intend to run this event safely, and that you do not intend people to act in a way that leads to their arrest.”
Coster said that in continuing with the planned event, “you do risk an enforcement response by police”.
The Auckland region is currently under alert level 3, which means movement is restricted to going to work, shopping or getting exercise. While some business travel is allowed, residents are required to stay within household bubbles and keep close to home.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker said it was a high-risk activity in the time of a pandemic at alert level 3 in Auckland, but wearing a mask at all times would minimise some risk.
“This opposes the need for physical distancing but an event outdoors is a lower risk of transmission unless it is a still day,” he said.
“The real problem is going to be in Auckland, where it only takes one person who is infectious to potentially infect a lot of people.
“The difficulty is what happens before and after the protest like shared transport and socialising afterwards, especially indoors where most people don’t wear masks inside.”
High-profile businessman Leo Molloy – who is a close friend of the Tamakis – is expected to be one of the speakers.
Molloy said his speech would be about why Kiwis should get vaccinated.
“I will talk about the right to make an informed decision and to trust science,” Molloy said.
“I’ll talk about the responsibility leaders have in every sector, political, business, religion, sport, even gangs – every sector should have strong leaders who will preach the Bible about being vaccinated.”
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