A pregnant Victorian mother has spoken out following her arrest at home after she allegedly created a Facebook event calling on people to protest the state’s lockdown.
Zoe Lee Buhler reiterated to reporters she had no idea what she had done was illegal. She apologised for her “bimbo moment” and said she would be too scared to now participate in a protest.
“[The officers] were quite nice down at the police station and like I said they were just, kind of, had to do their job at the moment (sic),” she said in the wake of her arrest.
But she also accused the police of fearmongering, and told 3AW it was Premier Daniel Andrews who should be feeling remorse and not herself.
“The protest never actually happened, no one was actually harmed, restrictions weren’t broken or anything like that so I guess I’m not remorseful,” she said.
“I feel like someone like Daniel Andrews should be feeling remorseful to be honest.
“I feel sorry for him to be honest, but at the same time maybe this will be a bit of slap in the face to say ‘oh crap, I’ve gone too far’.”
Her family has since set up a fundraiser page with a goal amount of $250,000 to cover her legal fees and fine.
On Thursday, one of Victoria Police’s top cops defended the arrest and said he was “satisfied” with the way attending officers behaved.
Buhler was arrested at her home in Miners Rest, north of Ballarat, on Wednesday as officers entered with an arrest warrant.
She filmed her arrest on Facebook Live, with the video amassing more than five million views in less than 24 hours, while the clip made headlines around the world.
“I didn’t realise I was doing anything wrong. This is ridiculous,” she can be heard saying in the video, before breaking down in tears as she is placed in handcuffs.
Accused of organising Freedom Day protest
Victoria Police confirmed she was charged with incitement over a prohibited gathering to take place on Saturday and is due in court in January. The planned protest was believed to be part of a series of national protests known as Freedom Day on Saturday.
Her brother Jordon Buhler has since set up a Go Fund Me page, which has raised more than $4,000 as of midday.
“As you all know my pregnant sister Zoe Lee has gone viral due to police coming into her home and arresting her in front of her kids,” he explained.
Mr Buhler said her sister organised the rally to raise awareness of mental health during “these hard times”.
She is listed as the organiser of a “Freedom Day Ballarat”, which accuses the government of using “scare tactics” and “extreme measures” during the pandemic, screenshots of the now-deleted event indicate.
Ballarat, 110km west of Melbourne, is currently in Stage 3 restrictions along with the rest of regional Victoria.
Arresting pregnant woman ‘never going to look good’
On Thursday, Premier Andrews told reporters he had not seen the video and refrained to answer questions on whether he thought her arrest was justified.
“It is not my practice to be directing police on how to enforce the law,” he said, noting police would address media later on.
Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius defended the actions of the officers who attended Buhler’s property.
He did admit arresting a pregnant woman is “never going to look good” and the “optics of arresting someone who is pregnant is terrible”.
However, he said he was “satisfied” attending officers “behaved appropriately and in accordance with our policy”.
He also defended the use of handcuffs, noting they are used following a risk assessment of the scene.
“When you enter a premises to execute a search warrant, you want to make sure that everyone at that place is accounted for,” he said.
Assistant Commissioner Cornelius noted Victoria Police will be waiting for anyone planning on protesting this weekend.
“We remain very concerned and outraged there are still people in our community who think it's a good idea at the time of this deadly pandemic that we're all fighting, to leave home and protest on our streets,” he told reporters ahead of organised protests in Melbourne on Saturday.
“What we're dealing with here is a hardcore group of people who blatantly are refusing to follow the directions and are blatantly encouraging others to do so.
“So while I get what Liberty Victoria says about fines and sanctions should be a last resort, well, I think we have given those people every opportunity to understand what is expected of them and we have given people every opportunity to comply.”
Addressing complaints of having to arrest and handcuff a pregnant woman, the assistant commissioner said the force will do what is necessary to ensure people comply with the state’s health order.
"This deadly virus doesn't discriminate, we won't discriminate,” he said.
“And we can't discriminate in holding people to account. I'd also make this observation, we take offenders and suspects as we find them.”
Mum didn’t know she was breaking the law
Despite Assistant Commissioner Cornelius’ comments, Buhler stressed she didn’t know by setting up an event she was breaking the law, and had initially planned to protest in Melbourne.
“I lost my job and I’m just sick of watching the economy collapse,” she said.
She said she was now too scared to protest and said she would not encourage others to do so after her arrest.
“It’s fear-mongering,” Buhler said.
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